Is this REALLY your Harrods of the high street, Mike? In House of Fraser, rails of Ashley’s discounted Sports Direct gear… just feet from brands like Hugo Boss
- House of Fraser stores filled with Everlast, Lonsdale, Lee Cooper and Champion brands at knockdown prices
- The Mail on Sunday visited six stores and found dozens of rails of the gear
- Many labels attached to the products were marked with Sports Direct’s Megavalue.com brand
Neil Craven for The Mail on Sunday
He famously promised to turn the troubled retailer into the ‘Harrods of the high street’ with a sparkling reputation for affordable luxury.
But billionaire retailer Mike Ashley has flooded House of Fraser stores with thousands of discounted products from his Sports Direct business, it can be revealed.
The Newcastle United owner, who bought House of Fraser seven months ago, has filled floors of the department store chain with his cut-priced Everlast, Lonsdale, Lee Cooper and Champion brands at knockdown prices.
The Mail on Sunday visited six stores and found dozens of rails of the gear.
House of Fraser Leamington Spa, with stock which appears to be from Sports Direct
One expert source estimated that as much as 75 per cent of the footwear and clothing stock in House of Fraser’s Rackhams store in the upmarket Altrincham in Greater Manchester had been brought in from Sports Direct.
Meanwhile, in the flagship store in London’s Oxford Street, knockdown ranges sold in Sports Direct such as Karrimor and Pierre Cardin were on rails just feet away from luxury names such as Chloe, Marc Jacobs and Hugo Boss.
Many labels attached to the products were clearly marked with Sports Direct’s Megavalue.com brand or with the familiar green 70 per cent discount tags.
There were also Nike and Adidas clothes on display, which experts said were ‘mass market’ ranges bought by Sports Direct from global sportswear brands and now being sold in House of Fraser.
The sources, veterans of the sportswear and retail industry, said the Sports Direct ranges were unlikely to have been considered suitable by House of Fraser previously.
One veteran market source, who has worked at the highest levels of retail and who visited a House of Fraser store last week, said: ‘Referring to a shop like Harrods suggests this is all going to be about exclusivity and finding product that you can’t find elsewhere.
‘I’m afraid that aspiration, while it might be considered honourable, is certainly not apparent in the ranges that Mike Ashley has brought into the stores.
Discounted socks in House of Fraser Sutton Coldfield
‘It may be that he’s trying to get the brands on board. But there is a big difference between trying and delivering on that.’
Evidence that House of Fraser is selling Mike Ashley’s low-priced brands is unlikely to help the tycoon’s attempts to seize control of Debenhams department stores. Earlier this month, Ashley met with lenders who are understood to have rebuffed his initial proposal to install himself as chief executive at the 150-store chain.
Last week, he again slammed Debenhams’ management before offering a £150million interest-free loan which has been interpreted by many observers as an attempt to derail management plans to raise that amount from lenders.
When Ashley took House of Fraser out of administration for £90million the chain had 59 stores, but many are still facing closure. In total, 54 remain open and Ashley has so far confirmed he will keep about half of those. But the fate of others remains unclear.
Promise: Ashley paid £90million for the House of Fraser stores
He said in August last year: ‘We will do our best to keep as many stores open as possible. My ambition is to transform House of Fraser into the Harrods of the high street.’ He added: ‘It is vital that we restore the right level of ongoing relationships with the luxury brands.’
However, one retail source said the positioning of the discount brands in particular could anger suppliers. ‘Looking at this I would say the [more expensive] brands would be reticent to supply based on the current look of the stores and the current offer. They look at things like adjacencies – brands they would sit next to – and they would be uncomfortable sitting next to such basic product.’
Discounted Sports Direct brands found in six House of Fraser stores visited by The Mail on Sunday included Ashley’s Sports Direct brands Kangol, Gelert, Karrimor, Slazenger, Pro USA and Pierre Cardin casualwear ranges.
The six were Altrincham; London’s Oxford Street; Guildford, Surrey; Leamington Spa, Warwickshire; and Solihull and Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands.
Retail expert Richard Hyman estimated that Ashley acquired £600million of stock in the stores when he acquired the business. It is still being run under licence from the administrators which allows the billionaire to close more stores if he wants with few penalties.
Hyman said: ‘I don’t think there is any great strategic plan at House of Fraser – you can’t push water uphill. I think what Ashley can see is a small number of stores that you might be able to do something with but most of them will need to be shut over time.’
Sports Direct and House of Fraser declined to comment.