Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has bought Studio Retail out of administration for £26.8m, saving almost 1,500 jobs after its shareholding in the online specialist was wiped out.
Ashley’s publicly listed empire, which includes Sports Direct, House of Fraser department stores, Evans Cycles and the Flannels designer fashion chain, said the acquisition would provide the group with the “expertise and synergies” that would help its ambition to provide more flexible payment options.
Studio Retail, which sells a mix of cut-price own-brand products, from clothing and furnishings to gifts and cards, offers shoppers an account where they can choose to spread payments over many months.
The group, formerly known as Findel, called in administrators to its publicly listed holding company last Thursday, wiping out shareholders led by Fraser Group, which had held a near-30% stake.
That came after shares in the group, which had a market value of about £100m, were suspended last week when the group said a request for a £25m loan had been turned down by its bank HSBC.
Frasers, which is controlled by Ashley, who owns nearly two-thirds of its stock, called on the government to urgently “increase the meaningful regulation of UK business”, saying the current corporate governance regime was inadequate.
“Frasers is of the view that a UK corporate governance regime that countenances sudden and unaccountable failure of businesses, viable one week, and irredeemably broken the next, entirely without sanction or censure of those involved, is clearly unfit for purpose and in need of urgent reform,” it said in a long statement to the stock market.
Frasers added that Studio Retail was “another example of a business which has buried its head in the sand whilst the world around it changed. Furthermore, it is clear that the fundamentals of its business were, at best inadequately scrutinised by its board and/or advisers to the business, or at worst, deliberately concealed as the business entered its death spiral.”
The collapse of Studio Retail marks the latest in a sorry list of stock market investments for Ashley’s retail empire.
The group took a hit of at least £150m on its near-30% stake in Debenhams when the then-listed department store called in administrators in 2019 while its 19% stake in Goals Soccer centre was wiped out when the five-a-side football pitch operator delisted after an accounting scandal.
Ashley’s empire, which he founded with one Sports Direct store, also bought out Game Digital, the games retailer, where it built a near-40% stake as sales fell because gamers were increasingly bypassing physical stores to buy online.
The statement issued on Friday said: “Frasers does not see the failures of listed public companies such as Debenhams, Goals and SRG as isolated incidents but rather as manifestations of systematic governance failures and a lack of corporate and individual accountability.”