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Liberty owner eyes up Ben Sherman

The private equity owner of London department store Liberty is reportedly considering a bid for British heritage brand Ben Sherman.

US owner Oxford Industries put Ben Sherman up for sale in March as it had a weaker financial performance than some of the group’s other labels, including Tommy Bahama and Lilly Pulitzer.

BlueGem, which bought Liberty for £40m in 2010, was behind a rescue of maternity, pram and babywear retailer Mamas & Papas last year. It is now thought to be eyeing Ben Sherman, according to media reports.

Anusha Couttigane, fashion consultant at retail research firm Conlumino, said Ben Sherman would be “far more attractive” to a private equity firm and if the deal with BlueGem goes through it will put the business in a “unique position” as Ben Sherman would sit in the middle of its portfolio, between Liberty and Mamas & Papas.

“The Ben Sherman brand still requires some redefinition and it’s likely this will be one of the key managerial focuses of its new owner. Currently, Ben Sherman continues to appeal to young professionals and more price-driven consumers, but there is enough leeway to reposition itself as a more upmarket label.”

She added: “The decision to do so may well define BlueGem as an upmarket player when it comes to fashion investments, and set the standard for future prospective buy-outs.”

However, one menswear source said an imminent private equity sale was “more unlikely than likely” and a fire sale or a “vanity investor” from abroad would be more likely to snap up the business.

“A buyer would inherit a £10m loss and then they would need to reorganise the team, which would cost another £10m, so it’s not an attractive position.

“It’s not an easy sell so a fire sale like Mike Ashley did for Firetrap could be an option. Another potential buyer could be a bidder from overseas as everyone loves Ben Sherman in India and the commonwealth.”

A spokeswoman for Oxford Industries told Drapers: “We are pleased with the level of interest Ben Sherman has generated and, with the assistance of our financial advisor Financo, the sale process is continuing.  We do not intend to provide any updates while the process is ongoing.” 

For the year to January 31, sales at the brand were up 26.6% to £17.2m. However, it made a full-year loss of £7.3m, down from £8.8m the year before.

BlueGem did not respond to requests for a comment.

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