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Indie department stores target takeovers

Independent department stores are looking for opportunities to expand in the recession by buying up struggling businesses.

This week, the directors of five-store department store group Townrow, which is buying collapsed indie Eaden Lilley’s St Ives store in Cambridgeshire, told Drapers they were looking out for more opportunities, while Morleys Stores, which bought Essex indie Roomes this week, said it was keen to expand its five-store operation.

Morleys Stores managing director David James said a confident indie could use the economic downturn as an opportunity for acquisitions. “We’ve built up a central infrastructure with a central buying team that allows us to support bigger businesses.”

Peter Lanigan, joint managing director at three-store business Pearsons, which has shops in Enfield in north London, Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, and a bed shop in Barnet, also in Hertfordshire, conceded he would have been interested in rival Roomes had he known it was on the market. He added that indies that owned the freeholds to their stores were in the best position to raise funds for acquisitions.

Neville Moore, managing director of Ulster Stores, which includes De Gruchy’s in Jersey and Moore’s of Coleraine in Northern Ireland, predicted further consolidation. He said: “We are always in the market for opportunities but we’re focused on what’s important - customer satisfaction and good service.”

Coes of Ipswich, East Anglia, said offers of businesses for sale often came up. However, owner David Coe said: “We only buy businesses if we can get the freehold, so that limits us.”

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