LONDON – Selfridges is changing hands again after nearly 20 years of ownership by the forward-thinking and sustainable Weston family.
Here, WWD takes a look at some key moments in the British retailer’s 113-year history, as well as its colorful owners and managers, starting with founder Harry Gordon Selfridge.
1906: The son of a small town merchant, Harry Gordon Selfridge rose through the ranks of Chicago retailer Marshall Field & Co. There he broke new ground by lighting the store at night and opening a restaurant where ladies could have lunch, without a chaperone. Selfridge is also credited with coining the phrase “The Customer is Always Right”.
He later marries an American heiress named Rosalie Buckingham, and earns a lot of money. In 1906 he went to London with his wife and was not at all impressed with the city’s commercial scene. He spots an opportunity.
1909: After creating the company Selfridges Retail Ltd. in 1908, Selfridge opened a flagship on Oxford Street in London, designed by American architect Daniel Burnham. Selfridge is investing Â£ 400,000 – the equivalent of Â£ 50million today – and building the store at the less fashionable end of Oxford Street.
Selfridge’s innovative approach to retail has led it to feature controversial planes and tango dancers, all with the goal of making shopping fun. He was the first to create a beauty department on the ground floor, skillfully masking the smell of manure from the horse-drawn carriages. He also opened a pet store and what was, at the time, the largest bookstore in the world.
1926: The Selfridge Provincial Stores are formed, bringing together the various businesses acquired by Selfridge since 1918.
1940: Selfridge Provincial Stores are sold to John Lewis Partnership, which operates John Lewis & Partners Department Stores and Waitrose & Partners Supermarkets.
1951: UK department store chain Lewis’s of Liverpool is buying Selfridges for Â£ 3.4million, which equates to around $ 153million in current value.
1965: Lewis is sold to the Sears group, owned by Charles Clore, for 63 million pounds, or 1.77 billion dollars at the current exchange rate.
1979: Roy Northway Stephens becomes CEO and Managing Director of Selfridges, uplifting his sleepy image and evoking the spirit of Harry Gordon Selfridge by providing entertainment and shows. Sears had asked Stephens to upgrade the store, and Stephens describes his new job as “the fulfillment of a dream.”
During his tenure he dedicated the store windows to âStar Warsâ, when the sequel to âThe Empire Strikes Backâ was released in Britain in 1980; invited the Muppets and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the Christmas Grotto and brought in a series of celebrities and personalities, including Olympic medalist Sebastian Coe; author Barbara Cartland, and journalist and host Alan Whicker for personal appearances.
1990 : Sears separated Selfridges from Lewis and put Lewis under administration a year later.
1996: Vittorio Radice is joining Selfridges as Managing Director, and under his leadership the department store is experiencing another spectacular revival, with numerous themed store takeovers, special products and a lively atmosphere. Radice left after the sale to the Weston family in 2003 and joined Marks & Spencer. He then joined La Rinascente, which was contributed by the Central Group in 2011 for 205 million euros, or 233 million dollars at the time.
1998: Selfridges is separated from Sears and listed on the London Stock Exchange. The retailer opens a branch at the Trafford Center in Manchester.
2002: The retailer is opening another store in Manchester’s Exchange Square.
2003: Retailer Galen Weston, a member of the Weston family of Canada, bought Selfridges for 598 million pounds, or $ 1.14 billion at the time, and formed the Selfridges group, which ultimately included Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, Holt Renfrew in Canada and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.
Selfridges opened its store in the Bullring in Birmingham, England, the same year. The store looks like a spaceship and was designed by Future Systems.
2004 : Weston’s daughter Alannah is appointed Creative Director. Under his leadership, the store opened what were, at the time, the largest shelves of men’s and women’s footwear in the world and launched new designer galleries for women and a designer space dedicated to men. She also presides over the opening of the Wonder Room, a space of nearly 20,000 square feet and selling luxury jewelry, watches and gifts.
2007: British author Lindy Woodhead publishes “Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge” about the wild life of Harry Gordon Selfridge. The book is turned into a hit television series that runs from 2013 to 2016, starring Jeremy Piven.
2007-18: The store is embarking on ambitious renovation projects, investing more than Â£ 300million to renovate the ground floor of its flagship store on Oxford Street and build the world’s largest luxury accessories room, a 60,000 square foot expanse of large and small leather goods, gifts, jewelry and eyewear.
During these years, Selfridges also plans annual themed store buyouts that capture the times and anticipate many trends. Themes include Radical Luxury, Good Nature, Music Matters, Agender, and the Beauty Project, which looked at themes like body positivity years before the industry stepped in.
2018: Selfridges promotes business pillars Paul Kelly, Anne Pitcher and Simon Forster. Pitcher succeeds Kelly as Managing Director of the Selfridges group.
2019: Alannah becomes president of the Selfridges group, a role previously held by her father. His promotion was part of a planned succession within the family business.
2020: Selfridges unveils Project Earth, committing to a series of science goals. He indicates that by 2025, the group will ensure that all of its âenvironmental impact materialsâ come from certified sustainable sources.
As part of the plan, the group’s stores are now supplied 100% with green energy, while the company has committed to achieving a net zero carbon footprint by 2050 in accordance with the Paris Agreement. It is also expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 64% by 2030.
That same year, Andrew Keith joined Selfridges as Managing Director. Keith was most recently president of Lane Crawford and Joyce in Hong Kong, a role he assumed in 2011.
April 2021: Galen Weston dies at age 80. He is survived by his wife Hilary and children, Alannah Weston Cochrane and Galen Weston Jr.
June 2021: Selfridges Group is declining to comment on press reports that it received an unsolicited bid of more than Â£ 4 billion for its UK and Irish operations. He signs on Credit Suisse to evaluate the offers. About half of that Â£ 4 billion would be tied up in commercial real estate.
July 2021: Selfridges confirms that it is considering a sale as Credit Suisse advisers send a briefing note to potential investors.
December 2021: The central Thai group is joining forces with Signa in Austria to buy Selfridges. The purchase reunites Radice, who is now an executive at Central Group, with the UK retailer.
Central is controlled by the Chirathivat family and operates retail businesses in Thailand and Vietnam as well as in Europe. Its holdings include Rinascente in Italy; Illum in Denmark and KaDeWe, Oberpollinger and Alsterhaus in Germany.
Signa Group is an international investment and industrial holding company active in the real estate, retail and media sectors. It was founded in 1999 and describes itself as one of the most important real estate investors in Europe.