Mike Ashley has vowed to take House of Fraser further upmarket with luxury brands and concierge services for shoppers.
The retail tycoon, who bought the department store chain out of administration for £90million, said labels such as Gucci, Prada, Stone Island and Mallet were ‘the biggest thing missing’.
He also revealed he would aim to keep 80 per cent of the firm’s 59 stores open – although some could see entire floors handed over to his other businesses, Sports Direct and Flannels.
Mike Ashley has vowed to take House of Fraser further upmarket
But experts cast doubt over Ashley’s plan to transform House of Fraser. Helen Brocklebank, chief executive of Walpole, which represents luxury goods firms, said: ‘Luxury brands are not magic fairy dust you can sprinkle over an ailing infrastructure and a store environment that badly needs investment and imagination.’
Ashley faces a looming battle with landlords over rent costs and calls from suppliers to pay £70million they are owed. He told them to ‘give us a chance’, adding: ‘We are here to get House of Fraser back to where it once was.’
Although his plans for the 169-year-old chain have been met with some scepticism, the tycoon has pledged to turn House of Fraser into the Harrods of the High Street.
Ashley said this would see the chain introduce stylists for shoppers and concierge-style click-and-collect services. He said: ‘When you go online and say you want to collect goods in-store, you should be able to book a time, book a changing room and book a stylist.
‘You get that kind of personal shopping service in Harrods. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be rolled out nationally across House of Fraser.’
But he added: ‘We think the biggest and most important thing House of Fraser is missing is luxury brands. It will make a big difference.’ Under a company voluntary arrangement, House of Fraser was set to close 31 of its 59 stores. Ashley, however, said he would aim to keep more open if deals can be reached with landlords.
Pensioners and suppliers, however, are likely to be left out of pocket. Because Ashley bought House of Fraser’s assets and brand out of administration, he is able to walk away from the pension and debt liabilities of the former business.
That means some 10,000 former staff could see cuts to their pensions of up to 10 per cent, while suppliers to the former management of House of Fraser are still owed £70million – and have yet to find out whether they will get their money back.
Sports Direct did not return requests for comment.