House of Fraser boss to ask for 'rent holiday'
House of Fraser's new owner is reportedly expected to request a 'rent holiday' from the landlords of up to 30 stores including Belfast as part of proposals to turn them into more luxurious shops.
Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley, who took over the chain in August 2018 for £90m, has revealed plans to divide his collection of House of Frasers into two camps.
He plans to launch a mini luxury chain called Frasers in 30 stores including Belfast's House of Fraser at Victoria Square. The remaining stores will operate under the House of Fraser fascia "catering to a mass market".
Sports Direct executive Michael Murray described the move as more than a "pipe dream", telling the Sunday Times "we have the capital to do it". But according to the Sunday Times, Mr Ashley will request a three-year rent holiday in return for an upgrade at stores.
But House of Fraser's Belfast landlord Commerz Real, which owns Victoria Square, told the Belfast Telegraph it would prefer not to disclose the details of a recent contract it signed with the retailer.
Earlier this year House of Fraser secured a long-term lease with Commerz Real. As part of that new agreement it revealed plans to fully renovate the Belfast store with an investment of upwards of £10m.
It said work on the renovations would begin "mid-2019" and would encourage "a plethora of contemporary brands" into the store "creating the next generation of elevated department stores".
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Michael Murray, head of elevation at Sports Direct, said: 'This marks a significant moment in the turnaround of House of Fraser and we are committed to investing and remodelling this popular store."
The 120,000 sq ft store first opened in 2008. But since its launch Belfast and other towns in Northern Ireland have witnessed the loss of brand names including Maplins, Toys R Us, BHS as well as the downsizing of many retail chains.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said Mr Ashley's move to upgrade some stores is a sign of the high street's evolution.
He said: "House of Fraser was already a premium brand store and we have quite a strong demographic of aspirational shoppers so something like Frasers would fit in with what they already have and with that demographic.
"What this move shows, if it goes ahead, is that retailers are having to reinvent themselves; sometimes because of cost pressures but also because you have to service what customers need."
The future of many House of Fraser stores in the UK was uncertain last year when Mr Ashley took over the brand.
An announcement on the Frasers rebrand is expected "within weeks", according to a report.