Whether or not Baugur’s new Souk concept makes it to the UK - and at this stage it’s difficult to see exactly what place it would take on a national high street already dominated by its fascias - the new superstore in Stockholm will no doubt give our retailers considerable pause for thought.
Baugur’s brand-buying blitz over the past four years has been so fast and so frenzied that to the untrained eye it could almost seem indiscriminate. Gathering them all together in Souk, a name that conjures up images of a bustling, disorganised Middle Eastern market, looks wholly appropriate.
But when you see the brands nestling comfortably side by side under one slick-looking roof, and a roof that’s owned by Baugur at that, you start to see the power of the Icelandic investor’s portfolio in all its glory. It’s quite an impressive sight - one that becomes even more so when you consider that the whole thing was put together, in characteristic Baugur breakneck style, in just nine weeks.
In our news analysis on page 10, Baugur global head of retail Gunnar Sigurdsson does not rule out bringing Souk to the UK. The format trades in Stockholm across 62,000 sq ft, and he notes that in the UK there are “a lot of stores with this type of space”.
Indeed, there are a lot of these stores over here. Some of them go by the name of House of Fraser, which as we all know is now owned by - that’s right - Baugur.
Of course, a number of House of Fraser stores are sort of Souk-lites anyway, containing many Baugur-owned brands under a Baugur-owned roof, so it’s perhaps not too difficult to imagine the concept coming here.
And then there’s that other well-known “store with that type of space”, Debenhams, of which Baugur has been tipped as a potential acquisitor. It’s enough to make your head spin.Sigurdsson would not rule out the possibility of a Debenhams buyout (of course he wouldn’t - he’s from Baugur, where anything is apparently possible) but he didn’t seem all that excited about the idea either. Not yet anyway.
Sigurdsson stresses that all of Baugur’s brands must survive in their own right and if, for example, one of them wants to open a concession in a HoF store, it’s up to them to sort it out for themselves.
This is a wholly sensible and necessary approach to take. While the Baugur brands are an incredibly powerful force when they operate together, at some point Baugur will want to realise its investments and sell them on. For some of the brands that point could come sooner rather than later, given the timeframe Sigurdsson has put on Baugur’s investments.
In all likelihood that will mean selling some off separately, unless another investor with a seemingly endless supply of funds emerges from somewhere we weren’t expecting. And, like Baugur and acquisition possibilities, I wouldn’t rule that out for fear of being proved wrong.
But until the sell-offs start, the possibility of the UK having Baugur-brand superstores is a very real one. And, in a way, we almost have them already.