The Entertainer and the retail tycoon Mike Ashley have been named among a pack of suitors eyeing up a Christmas bargain by lodging their interest in a takeover of Hamleys.
City A.M. reported that the retailers have told advisers to C.banner International, the current owner of the toy shop, that they are considering bids for the business.
Smyths Toys is also said to have expressed an initial interest in manking an offer. Formal bids for Hamleys are not due until after Christmas.
Sources said on Friday that Ashley was unlikely to be a frontrunner to acquire Hamleys unless he could secure a deal at a knockdown price. This week, he warned that November had been the worst on record for the high street, predicted a flurry of retail bankruptcies, and berated Debenhams – in which Sports Direct is the largest shareholder – for refusing to accept the offer of a £40m loan.
Hong Kong-listed C.banner, which paid about £100m for Hamleys three years ago, is said to want about £90m for the company, which reported a multimillion pound annual loss in October.
If a deal does take place, it would be Hamleys’ fourth change of ownership in 15 years following a succession of largely failed attempts by a range of international shareholders to expand the renowned brand globally.
Hamleys’ business comprises 129 stores globally, of which roughly 100 are operated under franchise. Founded in 1760, Hamleys is one of the most famous retailing names in the world, having occupied its current site on London’s Regent Street since 1881.
It was launched as Noah’s Ark by William Hamley, who stocked his store with items such as tin soldiers, wooden horses and rag dolls.In 2003, the company was taken off the London stock market by Baugur Group, the Icelandic investor which snapped up a string of big high street names in the decade before the financial crisis.
The retailer now has a presence in countries including Germany, India, Russia and Ukraine.Its international growth has not translated into a stellar financial performance, however.
In October, Hamleys Global Holdings, its ultimate parent company, reported a pre-tax loss of £12m for 2017, citing "market pressures including currency effects". The accounts added that trading was on an improving trajectory, with 2.7% UK like-for-like sales growth in the first eight months of 2018.
They also said that Hamleys was "on track to return to net profitability in the next 12 months".
Vermilion Partners, a corporate finance firm with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and London, is overseeing discussions with potential bidders.