Philip Day’s retail empire could be broken up after the tycoon launched a review of high street chains including Peacocks and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill following a number of unsolicited offers.
Mr Day, who has made a fortune by buying and restructuring distressed retail businesses, has received interest from potential bidders for all or part of value fashion chain Peacocks and his collection of “heritage brands”, which includes Jaeger, Austin Reed and Jacques Vert.
According to people familiar with the talks, FRP Advisory has been appointed to assess the value of those businesses as well as Edinburgh Woollen Mill, the brand whose acquisition in 2001 marked Mr Day’s arrival as a significant player in the sector.
One person close to the process said that Mr Day had not received expressions of interest in EWM and that it was “unlikely” to be sold, but that FRP was conducting “open-ended exploration of the value of the business”.
EWM trades from more than 400 stores, selling a mixture of knitwear and Scottish-themed gifts to a mainly older demographic. Many of its stores are located in tourist locations that have been slow to recover following the end of the UK’s coronavirus lockdowns.
Peacocks operates 550 locations on high streets and in provincial shopping centres, although about half of them remain closed and some of its staff are still on furlough despite the UK government giving permission for non-essential retailers to reopen from June 15.
It caters to value-conscious shoppers and faces strong competition from the likes of Primark, Matalan, supermarket clothing brands and Pep&Co, the Pepco-owned label that trades from more than 300 Poundland stores.
Although the FRP process is being conducted with a view to a solvent sale, some restructuring experts believe it may be a prelude to an insolvency process that would ultimately return the chain to Mr Day — minus its debts and lease obligations.
They point to last year’s acquisition of Bonmarche, another discount retailer, as a possible template. Mr Day’s holding company bought Bonmarche off the stock market in a £5.7m deal in July, only for it to be placed in administration three months later.
The chain was reacquired by Peacocks in February, although a third of its 316 stores have closed and talks on new lease arrangements with landlords continue. Unsecured creditors, who were owed bout £23m, have been warned they are unlikely to receive any return.
A spokesman for Mr Day declined to comment on the process, which was first reported by the Sunday Times. FRP also declined to comment.