Feb 27, 2017
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Sports Direct owner wants to buy Agent Provocateur

Feb 27, 2017

Could Agent Provacateur become part of billionaire retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley’s business empire? A UK report Monday suggested the Sports Direct founder and controlling shareholder has entered the race to acquire the struggling upscale lingerie brand that is currently owned by 3i.

Agent Provocateur could know the name of its new owner soon - DR

The Times said he has made a £27.5m bid for the business with other interested bidders said to include France’s Etam and private equity companies Lion Capital and Terra Firma Capital Partners.

Lion is reported to be the current frontrunner with a preferred bidder decision to be made soon. But until then, the race is wide open and interested parties could still up their bids if they are keen enough to win.

Ashley built his reputation and fortune on a pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap approach to the chains and brands he owned. But slowing growth and a number of scandals around the treatment of workers at Sports Direct, plus corporate governance issues, have seen him adjusting his strategy.

That appears to mean he wants to move more upmarket. Last autumn he declared that he wanted to turn Sports Direct into the “Selfridges of sport” and the controlling stake he holds in high-end retailer flannels already means he is active at the upper end of the market.

It was reported that Ashley would retain Agent Provocateur’s 11 stores but it is unclear whether he would continue to operate all of its 100 concessions in the UK and abroad. He could also sell the brand in his USC stores, adding a higher-end edge to that business.

Agent Provocateur has struggled of late after a too-rapid expansion programme saw it running into trouble. 3i also said it uncovered accounting issues and wrote down the value of its investment. While it is said to want £30m for the business, that is way below the £60m it originally paid for its 80% stake.

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