Owner of Sports Direct, USC, Flannels, Cruise, Van Mildert, House of Fraser, Evans Cycles, a 27% stake in French Connection and a 30% stake in Debenhams, Mike Ashley is arguably the new king of the UK high street.
In August the retail tycoon hit the headlines for controversially buying HoF out of administration for £90m in a pre-pack deal. Suppliers to the troubled department store chain wrote of losses of £484m, and the HoF website was suspended for weeks as XPO Logistics stopped accepting goods and processing deliveries.
Ashley said he wanted to save all 59 House of Fraser stores and has secured the fate of some, including the Oxford Street flagship, although his hard-nosed negotiating has caused some landlords to walk away.
Pre-tax profits fell 72.5% to £77.5m for the year to 29 April 2018, after a £85.4m hit from Sports Direct’s stake in Debenhams. However, group underlying pre-tax profit rose 34.5% to £152.9m, and sales grew 3.5% to £3.4bn.
In July, Ashley unveiled a new 100,000 sq ft Sports Direct flagship in Thurrock and plans to open between 10 and 20 of its “new-generation” sports stores in the UK and Ireland over the coming year, most of which will include the new USC concept. He also expects to open between six and 12 new Flannels stores before its financial year-end next April.
Earlier this month, Ashley appeared before a parliamentary committee and called for action to help the high street – including, controversially, a 20% tax on internet sales.
As negotiations over House of Fraser’s store estate and the future of Debenhams and French Connection continue, all eyes will remain on Ashley in 2019.