Young fashion chain Scotts has been hit by the shock exit of two senior managers, sparking rumours that Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley could be eyeing it.
Managing director Rob Frost and finance director Keith Jones left the 45-store business last week.
The move prompted speculation that Ashley was hoping to snap up Scotts. He is understood to be planning to grow his young fashion portfolio and add to Sports Direct's Original Shoe Co chain. However, this week Ashley was also linked to a possible bid for Alexon's menswear business Envy.
A source close to Scotts said Frost and Jones' departures were a result of a failed management buyout. Scotts is part of the John David Group - which runs the JD stores - after being bought by the group in 2004. It sells menswear and womenswear brands including Lacoste, Ted Baker, Timberland, Hackett and Peter Werth.
John David Group chairman Peter Cowgill would not comment on the reasons for the departures, but insisted that Scotts was not being sold. He said there were no immediate plans to replace Frost and Jones.
Cowgill said: "There is a great executive management team in place and we will work closely with them."
Like-for-like sales for the group's fashion arm, which includes six AV and Ath Leisure stores, rose 3.7% for the year to January 27. Turnover fell to £37.7 million, from £41.4m the year before.