Selfridges sold to Thai group and Australian firm in £4bn deal

Selfridges is SOLD: Thai conglomerate Central Group and Austrian real estate firm Signa snap up the British High Street stalwart’s 18 department stores for £4billion

  • Weston family had been searching for a buyer and wanted £4billion for the well-known high street business
  • They got their wish today in time for Christmas as it was bought by a Thai conglomerate and real estate firm
  • Thai Central Group started in Bangkok but went global, while Signa is an Austrian real estate giant
  • New owners vowed to  ‘create one of the world’s leading omni-channel luxury department store groups’

Department store Selfridges has been sold in a £4billion deal to retailer Signa Holding and Thai property company Central Group.

A statement released on Friday by the group said the acquisition would ‘create one of the world’s leading omni-channel luxury department store groups’.

The sale was made for £4 billion and includes 18 department stores across England, the Netherlands and Ireland.

They will become part of the combined Central and Signa portfolio of department stores which includes Rinascente in Italy, Illum in Denmark, Globus in Switzerland and The KaDeWe Group in Germany and Austria.

Selfridges was founded in 1908 by Harry Gordon Selfridge. W Galen Weston bought the flagship Oxford Street Selfridge store in 2003 and formed the Selfridges Group in 2010.

Selfridges Group chairman, and W Galen Weston’s surviving daughter, Alannah Weston said the acquisition was ‘testament to the successful realisation of my father’s vision for an iconic group of beautiful, truly experiential, department stores’.

‘Creative thinking has been at the heart of everything we did together for nearly twenty years and sustainability is deeply embedded in the business. 

The Weston family have sold the Selfridges Group to Thai conglomerate Central Group and Austrian real estate firm Signa


Key figures in the deal include non-executive director Vittorio Radice, left. Selfridges was founded by Harry Selfridge, right

High street favourite Selfridges was previously owned by the wealthy Weston family who wanted £4billion to sell up

File photo dated 1931 of traffic in Oxford Street, London, with Selfridges on the right some 25 year after it was first founded

Women commissionaires at Selfridges during World War One in 1917 nine years after it was founded and already popular

‘I am proud to pass the baton to the new owners who are family businesses that take a long-term view.

‘I know they will fully embrace that vision and continue to empower our incredible team to take the Group from strength to strength.

The Central Group opened Thailand’s first department store in 1956 and now has roughly 3,700 stores around the world.

Its’ non-executive director Vittorio Radice ran Selfridges between 1996 and 2003 and has been managing a department store in Italy since 2006.

He famously oversaw the ‘Body Craze’ where hundreds posed nude in the Oxford Street store as part of an exhibit by New York photographer Spencer Tunick.

Central Chief executive Tos Chirathivat said it was a ‘privilege’ to make the deal.

‘As family businesses, Central and Signa will focus on delivering exceptional and inclusive store and digital experiences for both local residents and overseas visitors alike, to ensure we can give all the stores in Selfridges Group a bright future for the next 100 years.’

Signa Holding was founded in 1999 and is Austria’s largest privately owned real estate company. 

2012 shoppers scrambling for perfume in Selfridges department store in London’s Oxford Street where they took £1.5 million in the first hour of trading

1964 shoppers in the China department of Selfridges store in Oxford Street, London, on the first day of the store’s June sale

Naked volunteers lie on the floor of the cosmetics department in a 2003 Selfridges exhibition which gathered much publicity

Deal will including the flagship Oxford Street site as well as branches in Dublin and abroad to add to the group’s portfolio

Must get those bargains! Shoppers rushing through the doors of Selfridges on Oxford Street, London, back in 2009

A chocolate world cup trophy on sale at Selfridges, London, in 2010 formed a centrepiece during the football tournament

Bonds Underwear Launch  for the Winter Range at Selfridges in 2004, featuring tennis player Pat Rafter and five models

Signa’s executive board chairman Dieter Berninghaus said: ‘Together we will work with the world’s leading architects to sensitively reimagine the stores in each location, transforming these iconic destinations into sustainable, energy-efficient, modern spaces, whilst staying true to their architectural and cultural heritage.

‘We plan to fulfil the vision of the late Galen Weston to deliver his masterplan and create a high-quality experience retailing environment for our customers and brand partners.’

The Weston family launched the sales process in June, a few months after the death of Galen, who oversaw the move to take the department store private in 2003.

The family controlled Selfridges through Wittington Investments Ltd in Canada, which is separate from the UK arm that owns a large stake in Primark owner Associated British Foods. 

They had appointed Credit Suisse as advisers to consider what the next step forward for the company could be.

Anne Pitcher, the boss of Selfridges, said earlier this year: ‘We will change the way we shop from this point on forever.

‘We will shop more digitally, there will be fewer stores, I’m afraid. 

‘People in the short term will not want to visit public spaces as often or attend large events. It will be the most difficult year ahead of us that we’ve ever known.’

Black Friday this year saw plenty of shoppers head to the store on Oxford Street, proving the store is still a massive draw

Shoppers at the Selfridges Boxing Day sale on Oxford Street, central London, a decade ago back in December 2010

Shoppers queue outside Selfridges on Oxford Street, London, waiting or the Boxing Day sales to begin back in 2009

Flags, flowers and draping with historical pictures and a centrepiece of the Queen on horseback forming the Coronation decorations at Selfridges in London in 1953

The interior of the branch of Selfridges in Birmingham, ahead of its opening in 2003 at the Birmingham’s Bullring centre

Statue of the Queen on horseback forming the centrepiece of the Coronation decorations at Selfridges in London in 1953

Man dressed as Santa Claus outside Selfridges in London as the store unveils its Christmas windows on Oxford Street

A woman mournfully looks at the last handbag left in the Chloe department in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London, in 2009

‘it’s the years beyond that that are going to be the exciting times.

‘This is about reinventing retail, nothing less.’

Selfridges was named after and founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge back in 1908.

In 2003 The Weston family took it private for £598 million. 

Selfridges owns more than 600,000 square feet of selling space at its flagship Oxford Street store in London. 

Its early years were documented in an ITV period drama, which ran between 2013 and 2016.

It followed the American-British retail magnate Selfridge as he invested £400,000 to build a shop on what was then the unfashionable end of Oxford Street. 

The business, which also runs stores in Manchester and Birmingham, was bought by the Westons for £598million in 2003. 

In May Selfridges acquired a licence to host weddings in a bid to help couples struggling with unprecedented demand for venues post-Covid. 

Harry Gordon Selfridge built retail empire centred on world-famous Oxford Street department store before his infatuation with twin sisters spelled his downfall 

In 1908, Harry Gordon Selfridge invested £400,000 of his own money in opening a department store at the then-unfashionable west end of Oxford Street after visiting London from his native Wisconsin, in the USA.

Selfridges & Co went on to become a household name, with Selfridge chairing the company until he was ousted in 1941 after becoming obsessed with twin sisters who were dubbed the Cheeky Girls of their day. 

He was the focus of the popular ITV drama Mr Selfridge, in which he was portrayed by American actor Jeremy Piven.

The firm has been controlled by the Weston family since 2003.

It is understood that no formal bid has yet been tabled for the iconic shop, but a small number of parties have already expressed their potential interest. 

Selfridges’ billionaire owners, the Weston family, have launched a formal auction to sell the historic department store business

The business runs 25 stores worldwide, including its flagship Oxford Street store and Birmingham site within the Bullring.

Selfridges has performed strongly in recent years, despite a wider downturn in the department store sector which has seen the collapse of Debenhams and declines at major rivals.

Meanwhile, Selfridges has seen a surge in profitability over the past decade as it has been boosted by heavy investment in stores.

Nevertheless, the group was hit by the enforced closure of sites during the pandemic.

A year ago, the company cut some 450 jobs, around 14 per cent of its total headcount, following the ‘toughest year’ in its history.

It will now face the significant challenge of weakened footfall and fewer tourists in key areas, such as Oxford Street.

When it opened, Selfridges was a shopping marvel unrivalled by other retailers.


In 1908, Harry Gordon Selfridge (pictured right with his daughter Rosalie) invested £400,000 of his own money in opening a department store at the then-unfashionable west end of Oxford Street after visiting London from his native Wisconsin, in the USA

The shop was an instant hit with Londoners. It is seen above on its opening day in March 1909. Crowds of men and women are seen waiting to get inside 

This colourised image shows Londoners massed outside Selfridges to look at its Christmas display in 1948

Selfridges sold everything which Londoners could possibly want, including an array of books. Above: A stand advertising a new release in 1946

English aviator Captain Campbell Black demonstrating a 1930’s aeroplane engine and chair parachute at the Selfridges’ Modern Boy Exhibition to a riveted crowd of young men on January 2, 1936

How Mr Selfridge was financially ruined by his pursuit of the 1920s ‘Cheeky Girls’ 

ITV’s Mr Selfridge told the story of how Harry Selfridge was financially ruined by his pursuit of twin dancers Jenny and Rose Dolly, who were dubbed the ‘Cheeky Girls’ of their era.

Selfridge was a 67-year-old widower when he met Jenny and Rose, who were known professionally as the Dolly Sisters.

The women loved to gamble and Harry is believed to have spent $4million to support their habit. Today, that figure is worth around $60million – or £43.5million.

ITV’s Mr Selfridge told the story of how Harry Selfridge was financially ruined by his pursuit of twin dancers Jenny and Rose Dolly, who were dubbed the ‘Cheeky Girls’ of their era

The tycoon also bought the women the best furs, jewels and evening gowns.

Andrew Davies, who created the ITV show, previously said of the sisters:

‘I think Harry’s relationship with The Dolly Sisters was the beginning of his downfall because he was mixing his personal money with company money.

‘The girls were a drain on him financially but made an even bigger dent on his reputation.

‘People trusted his judgment less because he was such a fool for them.’

Harry is known to have slept with Jenny and also offered her $10million to marry him.

However, Jenny was involved in a car accident in 1933 and needed to sell her jewellery to pay for plastic surgery operations.

Harry stepped into help but never tied the knot with the glamorous woman. She hanged herself in 1941 after suffering from depression. Rose died in 1970, aged 77.

The Oxford Street store boasted nine Otis lifts which took customers around more than 100 departments selling everything from swimsuits to fur coats.

The central aim was to give people comfort as they shopped.

Customers were treated to piped music and the scent of perfume in the air, whilst restaurants allowed shoppers to relax with a plate of food.

The store also boasted a hairdressers and manicure service.

Harry Selfridge liked to claim that his store helped to ’emancipate’ women. ‘I came along when they wanted to step out on their own,’ he said.

‘They came to the store and realised some of their dreams.’

When it first emerged in 1925, television was demonstrated to the public at Selfridges.

As well as the department store chain, Harry Selfridge also established a school for the young boys and girls who worked for him.

The Selfridges continuation school opened in 1925 and catered for male and female pupils from 14 to 18, teaching a wide range of classes from reading and writing to cookery, cleaning and sewing.

The school was founded at a time when the school leaving age for children in Britain was 14, raised from just 12 by the Education Act of 1918.

Although youngsters were allowed to leave school at 14, they were obliged to attend ‘continuation schools’ part-time until they were 18.

Images from Selfridge’s classes from 1920 show girls studying books, learning how to do laundry and taking part in ‘physical culture’ classes.

In 1940, the John Lewis Partnership bought what were then the 16 stores – besides the Oxford Street flagship – which made up Selfridges.

In 1951, the Liverpool-based Lewis’s – separate from the JLP – bought the Oxford Street shop.

Then, in 1965, the business was sold to the Sears Group, which was owned by British magnate Sir Charles Clore.

Under the Sears Group’s ownership, further stores were opened and Selfridge’s was split from Lewis’s, which was placed into administration.

Further expansion in 1998 saw Selfridges open in Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Exchange Square. Another store opened in Birmingham’s Bullring in 2003.

That year, Galen Weston bought the business. The Weston family now boasts a portfolio of more than 200 companies, including Canada’s largest supermarket chain, Loblaws.

In May, the Sunday Times rich list named the family’s Garfield Weston Foundation as being the largest single donor to businesses hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The foundation gave away a total of £45million, with more than £30million given to arts organisations.

ITV’s Mr Selfridge told the story of how Harry Selfridge was financially ruined by his pursuit of twin dancers Jenny and Rose Dolly, who were dubbed the ‘Cheeky Girls’ of their era.

Selfridge was a 67-year-old widower when he met Jenny and Rose, who were known professionally as the Dolly Sisters.

The women loved to gamble and Harry is believed to have spent $4million to support their habit. Today, that figure is worth around $60million – or £43.5million. 

Harry Selfridge was the focus of the popular ITV drama Mr Selfridge, in which he was portrayed by American actor Jeremy Piven (above centre)

The Oxford Street store boasted nine Otis lifts which took customers around more than 100 departments selling everything from swimsuits to fur coats

Customers were treated to piped music and the scent of perfume in the air, whilst restaurants allowed shoppers to relax with a plate of food

Crowds of customers on the first day of a post-Christmas sale at Selfridges on December 28, 1963

View of some of the Christmas decorations outside Selfridge’s store on Oxford Street, 23 November 1957

Customers are seen here looking at the quilts and bedspreads on offer during the post-Christmas sale in December 1963

The tycoon also bought the women the best furs, jewels and evening gowns.

Andrew Davies, who created the ITV show, previously said of the sisters: ‘I think Harry’s relationship with The Dolly Sisters was the beginning of his downfall because he was mixing his personal money with company money.

‘The girls were a drain on him financially but made an even bigger dent on his reputation.

‘People trusted his judgment less because he was such a fool for them.’

Harry is known to have slept with Jenny and also offered her $10million to marry him.

However, Jenny was involved in a car accident in 1933 and needed to sell her jewellery to pay for plastic surgery operations.

Harry stepped into help but never tied the knot with the glamorous woman. She hanged herself in 1941 after suffering from depression. Rose died in 1970, aged 77.

Largely due to the money he lavished on the sisters, Harry’s fortune disappeared and he ended up owing £250,000 in tax. He was then forced out of Selfridges in 1941.

Surviving on a reduced pension, Harry lived in a rented flat and would catch the bus to visit Selfridges. On one occasion, he was arrested by police who believed he was a vagrant.

The former businessman died penniless in 1947.

The business runs 25 stores worldwide, including its flagship Oxford Street store and Birmingham site within the Bullring. Above: The Birmingham store

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