29 February 2020
Hamleys runs 167 stores across 18 countries, the majority of which are in India. Photo: Bloomberg
Hamleys runs 167 stores across 18 countries, the majority of which are in India. Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese group sells Hamleys toy stores to India’s Reliance

Hamleys, the world’s oldest toy retailer, is set to pass from Chinese to Indian control after Reliance Industries Ltd. said it has agreed to buy the British high street icon, Reuters reports.

Through its Reliance Brands subsidiary, the conglomerate late on Thursday said it signed an agreement to buy the 250-year-old chain from C Banner International Holdings Ltd. (01028.HK).

On Friday, C Banner stock was suspended from trading pending an announcement.

Reliance did not disclose the price of the deal, but in 2018, C Banner wrote off US$49.8 million in goodwill and brand value related to Hamleys, its annual report showed. The cut reduced the carrying value of the toy retailer by 36 percent to 626 million yuan (US$91.85 million).

The Chinese group bought Hamleys in 2015 for 100 million pounds (US$130.2 million) from France’s Groupe Ludendo, but its enthusiasm for British acquisitions has since cooled. Last year, it dropped plans to buy 51 percent of House of Fraser, sending the UK department store chain into administration.

The acquisition by Reliance Industries, owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, marks the conglomerate’s first foray in an overseas retail brand.

Reliance Industries runs the world’s biggest single-location crude oil refinery and has been transforming itself into a consumer-focused behemoth through ventures in retail and telecommunications.

“The worldwide acquisition of the iconic Hamleys brand and business places Reliance into the frontline of global retail,” said Reliance Brands chief executive Darshan Mehta.

Founded in 1760, Hamleys resonates with adults and children alike, with its flagship Regent Street store in central London recognized around the world.

The toy seller runs 167 stores across 18 countries, the majority of which are in India, Reliance said. The Indian company, which already holds the master franchise for the brand in India, currently operates 88 stores in 29 cities.

Having established itself as India’s leading mobile telecoms player, Reliance Industries has been firming up plans for a retail onslaught to combine its traditional outlets with an online foray aimed at taking on Inc. and Walmart Inc. in India.

A supermarket operator, Reliance is already the country’s biggest bricks-and-mortar retailer in terms of revenue and number of stores.

The conglomerate’s strategy to diversify beyond refining and petrochemicals has seen its fast-growing telecoms and retail operations driving quarterly profit to record highs at a time when its gross refining margins have taken a hit from oil price volatility and slowing global demand.

The group’s retail business doubled revenue to 356 billion rupees (US$5.1 billion) in the three months to Dec. 31 while earnings before interest and tax more than tripled to 15 billion rupees.

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