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Richest Asian buys famed British toy-store chain Hamleys

The acquisition is the latest in a string of purchases in Ambani’s push into the consumer business.
Mukesh Ambani's acquisition is the latest in a string of purchases towards consumer business, combining bricks-and-mortar stores with online investments to counter the US giants. Picture: Simon Dawson, Bloomberg

Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, sealed another deal to expand his retail footprint and add heft in a battle with Amazon.com and Walmart in India.

Reliance Brands agreed to purchase the 259-year-old British toy-store chain Hamleys from C.Banner International for almost 68 million pounds ($88.5 million) in cash. The transaction would transform the unit of Ambani’s Reliance Industries into a “dominant player in the global toy retail industry,” it said in a statement late Thursday.

The acquisition is the latest in a string of purchases in Ambani’s push into the consumer business, combining bricks-and-mortar stores with online investments to counter the US giants. The billionaire is stitching together a network of partners through stake purchases or outright acquisitions in India’s growing online shopping market, which Morgan Stanley estimates will be valued at $200 billion by 2028.

Adding Hamleys would give Reliance 167 stores across 18 countries. The company is already a master franchisee of the toy chain in India, where it operates 88 outlets.

Ambani says retail operations will contribute nearly as much to the conglomerate’s total earnings as its core energy business by the end of 2028.

Hamleys, which was founded in 1760 and opened its flagship store on London’s Regent Street in 1881, has been something of an international hot potato in recent years. Iceland’s Landsbanki Islands sold it to France’s Ludendo Groupe in 2012, and C.Banner paid 100 million pounds for it in 2015.

Though the Regent Street store is a beloved tourist attraction, the chain has suffered from the malaise that claimed Toys “R” Us Inc’s UK unit in 2018 and afflicts shopping streets around the world. Two of the 10 Hamleys stores in South Africa closed this year when their franchisee filed for bankruptcy protection.

For Hong Kong-listed C.Banner, the sale would mark a retreat from the UK after the Chinese company last year dropped plans to purchase a majority stake in House of Fraser, a struggling department-store chain that was rescued by Sports Direct International.

Reliance’s shares declined 0.4% on Friday in Mumbai to close at 1 251.15 rupees, capping five straight sessions of decline this week.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P
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