(Bloomberg) -- Next Plc said it has no intention of going on an investment binge and becoming a “corporate blob” even though it has snapped up Jojo Maman Bebe, Joules and Cath Kidston in the last 18 months.
“The biggest risk is that, in making multiple investments, we build an unwieldy retail conglomerate that lacks the focus and agility we have worked so hard to maintain over the last thirty years,” Chief Executive Officer Simon Wolfson wrote in the retailer’s latest earnings statement.
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Next bought Joules out of insolvency late last year for £34 million ($42 million) after the struggling chain, best known for its brightly-colored Wellington boots, struggled to raise financing to repay a loan. Next said that Joules’ first year under its ownership had been disappointing and it had made a “critical mistake” in underestimating the extent to which the online sales of a distressed company can be boosted through discounts and promotions, particularly in the run up to liquidation.
Next is building a system to aid retailers with everything from buying, merchandising and freight through to financial management, accounting and reporting. The retailer said the project, named Total Enterprise Platform, could grow from being a service provider to a mergers and acquisition tool and could increase retailers’ dependence on Next.
Wolfson warned that more often than not big retail giants fail.
“Smaller, more nimble, companies snap at their heels,” wrote Wolfson, warning about the disadvantages of being a retail conglomerate. “These ‘disruptors’, dismissed at first as minnows, become a shoal of Piranha and the carcass of the once mighty behemoth is slowly eaten away.”
The other main consolidator in UK retail is Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group Plc. Over the years the retailer has bought House of Fraser, Jack Wills, Evans Cycles and Game. Last year, Frasers added Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes and online businesses Missguided, Amara Living and Studio Retail Group along with increasing stakes in Hugo Boss AG and Asos.
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Wolfson said Next has a criteria it follows for new investments and will generally only focus on companies that have a great brand and strong management and which could benefit from its operational expertise. The price has to be right too, of course, he said.
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