Who will snap up 214 Oxford Street aka the "Big Topshop"?
Arguably the world’s best location for a fast-fashion store, at the epicentre of the most fashionable city, is now up for grabs. 214 Oxford Street or "Big Topshop" as it was known, is seeking a new buyer.
After the demise of the Arcadia group (which fell into administration at the end of last year and is currently being sold off by administrator Deloitte), Topshop’s flagship Oxford Circus store is reportedly unlikely to re-open after the UK’s third national lockdown.
The sale of the 214 Oxford Street site is being managed separately from the sale of the Topshop brands by agents Savills and Eastdil.
While there has been a queue of retailers sizing up Arcadia's brands, the availability of 214 Oxford Street will no doubt have many retail groups and property owners clambering to own this prized piece of real estate, despite all the turbulence in the retail market. This is not just another shop.
The majority of people won’t remember this site pre-Topshop. Originally the Peter Robinson department store, owned by Burton’s from 1946, the first "Top Shop" opened in a Sheffield branch of the chain in 1964. In 1965, the basement of the Peter Robinson Oxford Circus store was converted into a Topshop. The store, as we know it today, opened in 1994.
Home to Topshop and Topman, this six-floor, 90,000 sq ft flagship of all flagships could be an amazing trophy site for a successful retail chain or broken up to house different brands. This is the kind of tempting asset which will attract much interest, so who might be in the running to win the race and what would they do with it?
Spanish billionaire and Zara founder, Amancio Ortega, has been buying up large swathes of Oxford Street over recent years. In 2019, he added the former Royal Mail sorting office at the end of Oxford Street for £600m to his reported €15.2bn property portfolio through his investment holding, Pontegadea Inversiones.
While Oxford Street has many Zara and Inditex brand stores, there has been a trend of opening larger and larger shops. In Dec, 2020, a new 37000 sq ft store, double the size of Zara's previous store at Bluewater, opened at the Kent shopping centre. This trend for huge, tech-driven Zaras plus a chance to bring its other brands such as Massimo Dutti, Bershka and Pull & Bear together could make 214 Oxford Street an attractive proposition.
There are two main business arms of the billionaire Weston family. George Weston Limited, the Canadian branch of the Weston family, which owns Selfridges and other luxury department stores and Wittington Investments, the main holding company of the British branch of the family, which owns Associated British Foods (including Primark), and Fortnum & Mason and Heal’s.
Either or a combined effort could be interested in 214. Selfridges has been stealthy buying up property around its vast department store. In 2011, the Weston family bought 388–396 Oxford Street, which is located immediately to the east of the Selfridges building across Duke Street and is being developed, opening 2021, and in December 2012, Selfridges acquired the 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) Nations House office building from Hermes, which is located immediately behind its Oxford Street store in Wigmore Street, for around £130m, and converted into a new staff entrance.
While Oxford Circus is a leap from the main Selfridges store, it’s not a million miles away. They could also lease it to Primark. Wittington Investments could also make the purchase for its Primark brand. This is a retailer which has made modern physical retail a massive success. Oxford Street is currently bookended by two giant Primarks, but having one at the centre could be tempting. In April 2019, Primark opened the world’s largest in Birmingham. Spread over 5 floors, and 160,100 sq ft, it features a beauty studio, its first in-store barbers salon from Joe Mills, and three dining options. They would possibly close one of the two existing stores, probably the quieter one closer to Marble Arch.
Next is in the running to buy the Topshop brand along with US investor Davidson Kempner, and with its recent brand acquisitions, such as Victoria’s Secret UK arm and its venture to relaunch the Laura Ashley brands, along the aggressive expansion of its beauty hall concept, it could be all housed under one giant roof. However Next did open a huge flagship store, not far down the road from 214, at the old Plaza/Bourne & Hollingsworth store, in September 2018.
While Mike Ashley is always in the running to buy everything, this could be a stretch too far. He already owns the Flannels store with offices above towards Tottenham Court Road and will be contemplating what to do with the original flagship House of Fraser store further down towards Selfridges. Add the empty Debenhams Oxford Street store, if he’s still interested in that and it all feels too much at one time. While perfect for his new "elevated" Frasers concept, 214 could be too much of a costly distraction even for him. Though he would like to rub Philip Green’s face in it.
The Hut Group
Flush with cash from its recent IPO, it debuted in September 2020 at an offer price of 500p per share, valuing the company at $5.8bn (£4.5bn), The Hut Group has busy buying up beauty, fitness and wellness brands. Could 214 be a beauty wellness showcase? The Hut Group already owns Espa, Illamasqua, Lookfantastic, Coggles, Myprotein, and Perricone MD, and in December 2020, it bought sports beverage firm Claremont and fruit-based ingredients supplier David Berryman's for £59.5m along with Dermstore from retail corporation Target for £259million.
214 could be a gym, wellness, beauty, all encompassing good life store for The Hut Group.
Nike Town could expanded into next door and this giant – $37.4bn annual revenues – could afford this from pocket change. JD Sports has been wildly successful over the last few years in sportswear and have been on a buying spree recently. In December 2020, it snapped up US trainer retailer Shoe Palace for $325m (£243.8m). JD Sports also seems to be eyeing luxury. It Cambridge luxury retailer Giulio in July 2019 and has pencilled a new opening for Kingston, Surrey in 2021, and just this week it was revealed it had acquired Leicester-based menswear independent Wellgosh.
Apple seems wedded to Regent Street, but never say never. Microsoft opened its cringingly titled, Microsoft Experience Centre, at Oxford Circus in 2019 in the old Benetton store. So, it could be somebody like Samsung. While its Coal Drops store at Kings Cross is impressive, 214 would get far more traffic and could showcase all its products as well as smartphones.
A fintech unicorn like Klarna could take 214 to showcase some of its experiential, ever-changing offer of brands in its universe. It has dabbled in pop-up stores, could it want a high-profile permanent home?
Could this site tempt ASOS into finally opening a store? Founder Nick Robertson always swore he would never open a store but behind closed doors would admit to having his eye on 214. However he’s not CEO at ASOS anymore and it seems an unlikely move (even if ASOS would make a brilliant job of it).
Rival online group Boohoo, which is one of the frontrunners to acquire the Topshop brand, could open a department store site with all of its brands, particularly the ones aimed at an older demographic like Karen Millen and Coast.
One of the big groups could bring luxury to the centre of London. DFS, LVMH’s travel retail aim megastore, could open something like the new Samaritaine, slated to open in Paris in 2021, or the super stylish Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice.
Kering could open a giant Gucci, or a Bottega Veneta with no windows or doors?! (Following its social media outage).
The UK’s new duty free changes could put them off in the short term, but London will always be a draw for tourists and this would now include duty free visitors from the EU.
214 could see the debut of a splashy new international retailer. Doubt the Americans have the stomach for this after their many failures (see J.Crew, American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic and more for details), but maybe something new from China or a European retailer that really want their new presence to be felt?
Pension fund/Wealth fund
No doubt a good place to put millions of £s of investment capital and could lease to any of the above. The returns on this site, in the long term, will be very attractive. Depending on interest, they could break the store into smaller units or, knowing its importance, attract a brand or retailer to take the whole thing.
It’s not going to be cheap, but 214 Oxford Street is so big and so prominent it could work for anybody or anything with enough imagination and deep pockets. Whoever takes it will be there for the longterm.