The Top 20 Retail Companies You’ve Never Heard Of

The content in this feature was originally created for the Retail Week International Expansion Conference in November 2015 and subsequently presented at Retail Week Live in March. Even between the two Retail Week events, some of the following companies were actively pursuing new acquisitions in the European retail market. This is a measure of how attractive UK and European brands are to overseas investors and how dynamic the retail marketplace is. It also underlines the fact that whilst UK and European brands are looking at expansion beyond our borders, the world is looking back at us, seeing the latent global value in our brands and investing in our retail know-how. The ‘top 20 retail companies you’ve never heard of’ is in two parts of 10 companies. The first part is details the 10 companies actively investing in UK and European retail brands, and the second part details the 10 Companies you need to know when expanding overseas.

Part 1: Companies Investing in UK & European Retail

1 Sanpower Group

Sanpower Group controls over 100 subsidiary companies within its core sectors of finance, retail, media, property and health care, with annual turnover in excess of $13bn. Sanpower operates department store brands in China and in 2014 they bought 89% of House of Fraser for £480m, whilst C.banner, a strategic partner of Sanpower bought Hamleys for £100m in 2015. The company is firmly established among China’s Top Enterprises and according to company chairman and Chinese billionaire Yuan Yafei, the Group has plans to further expand it’s influence through continued mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, and relationships with leading retail brands to drive further global expansion.


2 Wanda Group

Wanda Group is a Chinese conglomerate operating in four major industries—commercial property, luxury hotels, tourism and department stores. The company’s CEO Wang Jianlin, plans for Wanda to become the world’s largest department store retailer and for the brand to become “known by everyone in the world” like Walmart or Google. Wanda Group announced a €2.2bn retail and leisure development on the outskirts of Madrid in 2015 and a €3.3bn development on the outskirts of Paris in 2016. This complements the purchase of British firm Sunseeker in 2013 and a recent £1.1bn investment in building a luxury hotel in London.


3 Central Group

Central Group is a family-owned conglomerate based in Thailand that operates brands across retail, real estate, hospitality and restaurants. The Group purchased La Rinascente department store in Italy in 2011, Illum in Denmark in 2013 and most recently has taken a 50.1% stake in KaDeWe Group, therefore taking a controlling interest in the KaDeWe, Oberpollinger and Alsterhaus German department stores. In 2014 the Group declared plans to target European sales with the overall aim that it would account for 40% of the Group’s overall sales value in 2020. The Group’s CEO, Tos Chirathivat, says further overseas deals are being negotiated.


4 Steinhoff International

Steinhoff International is a South African international and household goods retail holding company. Steinhoff owns and operates Cargo, Harvey’s Furniture, Bensons for Beds and Sleepmaster in the UK. Steinhoff bought Pepkor for $5.7bn in 2014 to add to its brand portfolio and Andy Bond, ex-CEO of ASDA is rolling a new retail brand targeting mums on a budget called Pep & Co in the UK. He describes the offer as “George on the High Street”. Steinhoff have been active since 2016, unsuccessfully crashing into the Argos sale to Sainsburys earlier this year and then doing the same to FNAC on their purchase of Darty in France.


5 Brait

Brait is a South African company that has been actively investing in UK retail. In 2015, the company snapped up an almost 80% share of Virgin Active health clubs along with a 90% share of New Look for a total investment of $2.2bn. The company plans to roll out hundreds of New Look stores in China over the next five years. Brait also increased its stake in frozen food retailer Iceland from 19% to 57% in 2012 and the $5.7bn it received from Steinhoff for Pepkor in 2014 means that Brait has funding for further investments in UK retail.


6 Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC)

The Hudson’s Bay Company is a leading Canadian retailer offering a wide selection of branded merchandise throughout Canada, Germany, Belgium and the United States. HBC currently operates three of North America’s most iconic retail brands; Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay in Canada. Having surveyed the European retail landscape for expansion opportunities, HBC recently agreed to buy German department store chain Galeria Kauhof and its Belgium subsidiary. The deal represents the company’s first move onto European soil and will function as a European base from which to expand into new markets over the next 20 years.


7 Landmark Group

Landmark Group is one of the largest retail conglomerates across the Middle East, Africa and the Indian Subcontinent, boasting a diverse portfolio of fully owned and franchised brands. Landmark Group’s founder, Micky Jagtiani lived in London before taking over the family business in Bahrain, eventually building a multinational conglomerate and becoming a billionaire. Micky Jagtiani acquired a 10% stake in Debenhams in 2008 and Landmark Group bought Carluccios in 2010 for £90m. Despite having not made any significant investments on UK or European soil for a few years, Micky Jaganti was reportedly linked to the recent shareholder activism at Debenhams.


8 Sun Capital Partners

Sun Capital Partners are a global investment firm focused on leveraged buyouts, equity, debt and other investments. Sun Capital are active investors and have invested in over 315 companies since founding in 1996. They target mid-market sized companies with untapped potential, franchise value and a strong market position with $50m to $1.5bn in revenues. Over the past 10 years, they have invested in a number of European retail businesses. Highlights are Vroom & Dreesmann Department Stores, La Place, The Scooter Store, Scotch and Soda, Strauss Innovation, American Golf UK, Bonmarché, Jaques Vert Group, Dreams, ScS and Sharps Bedrooms.


9 Wittington Investments Limited

Wittington Investments Limited is an unquoted British investment company, 79% owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation, and 20.8% owned by members of the Weston family. The company owns 54.5% of Associated British foods and is the parent company of Primark, the largest discount clothing chain in the UK. Whittington Investments also owns the British department stores Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges, along with Brown Thomas in Ireland, Holt Renfrew in Canada and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands. In 2015 Selfridges announced record profits and that it would acquire Dublin based department store Arnotts to compliment their existing Irish investment in Brown Thomas.


10 The Foschini Group

The Foschini Group are one of the prominent independent retail store groups in South Africa, operating over 2,700 stores in 27 countries selling clothing, jewellery, accessories, sporting and outdoor equipment and homeware. The Foschini Group agreed to buy clothing chain Phase Eight from TowerBrook Capital in 2015, paying £140m for an 85% stake in the women’s fashion brand. The company followed up the 2015 acquisition by buying UK fashion retailer Whistles for an undisclosed sum in March, enhancing its presence in the UK and providing a major boost to international expansion plans: their second UK retail brand acquisition in less than 14 months.


Part 2: 10 Companies You Need to Know When Expanding Overseas

1 Fawaz Alhokair Group

Fawaz Alhokair Group is a company focused on retail and real estate. It’s Saudi Arabia’s most valuable retail and real estate company with 11 shopping centers across the Kingdom. Alhokair now operates more than 2,100 stores across 16 countries, representing more than 80 international brands such as Gap, Mango, Desigual, M&S, Superdry and Zara, to name a few. Alhokair’s strength lies in attracting established global brands to Saudi Arabia. Their growth is driven by Saudi Arabia’s many wealthy citizens and a young population with disposable incomes eager for Western goods.


2 M.H. Alshaya Co.

M.H. Alshaya Co is a multinational retail franchise operator that was founded in 1890, based in Shuwaikh, Kuwait. It operates multiple brands of fashion and footwear, food, health and beauty, pharmacy, optics, leisure, entertainment, and home furnishings in the Middle East, North Africa, Russia, Turkey, and Europe. Alshaya operates nearly 3,000 stores for worldwide brands such as Debenhams, Mothercare, H&M, Next, Topshop, Harvey Nichols, Starbucks, MAC, the Body Shop and River Island. Alshaya’s performance has been driven by continuous investment in talent, infrastructure, operational excellence and an ambition to become a world-leading retailer.


3 Majid Al-Futtaim

Majid Al Futtaim is the leading shopping mall, retail and leisure pioneer across the Middle East and North Africa, with businesses spanning across 14 international markets. In the retail sector, Majid Al-Futtaim holds the exclusive rights to renowned Carrefour franchise in 38 markets across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, as well as running franchise operations for major brands such as All Saints, Abercrombie & Fitch and Juicy Couture. The company is dedicated and committed to transformation, expansion and growth through innovation and delivering exceptional customer experiences.


4 Falabella

Chilean multinational retailer, Falabella, is the second largest retail company in Chile and one of the largest in Latin America. In addition to operating its flagship Falabella department stores, it also operates Mall Plaza shopping centres, Tottus hyper & supermarkets, Banco Falabella banks and Sodimac home improvement centres. By providing access to a world of affordable design at a time when few brands had the courage to set down roots in the region, Falabella became a great ally of Latin American women, trusted for its expertise across a broad array of products and services.


5 PT Mitra Adiperkasa Tbk

Incorporated in 1995, Indonesian lifestyle retailer PT Mitra Adiperkasa Tbk has experienced exceptional growth over the years. They are currently one of Indonesia’s largest retail companies with over 2,000 retail stores and a diversified portfolio consisting of sports, fashion, department stores, kids, food & beverages and lifestyle products. PT Mitra also currently operates franchises of major foreign brands and department stores such as Starbucks, Zara, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Galleries Lafayette, Topshop, Next and Mango. Despite its rapid expansion, plans were cut back in 2014/15 after profits plunged due to a weakening rupiah, rising wages and intensifying competition.


6 TATA (Trent Retail Ltd)

TATA Group is one of the largest Indian multinational conglomerates, comprising over 100 independent operating companies across six continents with revenue in excess of $108bn dollars. TATA Group’s retail arm, Trent, currently operates Westside, one of India’s largest and fastest growing retail chains with 100 stores, along with Star Bazaar, a hypermarket chain and Landmark, a family entertainment chain. In addition to its core brands, Trent also operates Zara stores in India under a JV with Inditex and has signed a £85m partnership with Tesco to operate 12 stores in the southern and western regions of India.


Charoen Pokphand Group

Thailand’s largest private company and one of the world’s largest conglomerates, The Charoen Pokphand Group currently operates in 18 countries, through its 200 subsidiaries in the industries of agro-business and food, marketing and distribution, telecommunications, and retail. CP All Plc. is the sole operator of 7-Eleven convenience stores in Thailand. At the end of 2014, the company had a total of 8,127 stores. The company also operates over 70 Lotus SuperCenters providing Chinese consumers with high quality merchandise prices in a ‘one-stop’ shopping experience. Last year CP Group was reported as approaching Tesco to buy their 1,700 stores in Thailand for approximately $10bn.


8 Woolworths Holdings Limited

Woolworths Holdings Limited is a South African retailer, modelled on Marks & Spencer of the United Kingdom. Its core business is the provision of retail products and services to upper and middle income customers in the Southern Hemisphere. Woolworths operates two retail propositions in Country Road Group and David Jones, which it bought in 2014. Country Road sells clothing and accessories under a number of its own brands, namely Country Road, Witchery, Mimco and Trenery, whilst David Jones operates 38 department stores across Australasia. Woolworths Holdings has a strong position and a clear vision to become the leading retail group in the southern hemisphere.


9 Liverpool

Liverpool is the largest department store chain in Mexico, operating 85 stores. Liverpool is a mid-to-high end retailer catering primarily to the middle class families that represent the country’s social and economic foundation. In-store, it offers a complete shopping experience, including (in some locations) luxurious extras such as gourmet food. Liverpool also demonstrates that it’s up-to-date with fashion trends by hosting the annual Fashion Fest event. Current partnerships include U.S. brand Chico’s as well as recently signing a franchise partnership with Williams-Sonoma across a range of their brands to open 13 franchise stores in Mexico City.


10 Abdulla Al-Futtaim

Abdulla Al Futtaim owns conglomerate Al Futtaim Group, controlling automotive, real estate, financial services and retail businesses spanning across the United Arab Emirates, North Africa, Central and South East Asia and Australia. The Group is the exclusive distributor of Toyota and Honda vehicles in the United Arab Emirates. In addition to its automotive business, Al Futtaim Group operates the franchises for Ikea, Toys “R” Us, Coast, River Island, Fat Face, Ted Baker and Marks & Spencer which anchor its real estate developments, including Dubai Festival City and Cairo Festival City.


Chief Executive Officer, London