Sears plc

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Sears plc
FateAcquired by Philip Green
SuccessorArcadia Group
Founded1891; 127 years ago (1891)
Defunct1999; 19 years ago (1999)
HeadquartersLondon, UK
Key people
Charles Clore (Chairman)
Number of employees

Sears plc was a large British-based conglomerate. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It was acquired by Philip Green in 1999.


The business was founded by John and William Sears in 1891 and initially traded as bootmakers under the name of Trueform.[1] It had acquired Freeman, Hardy and Willis by 1929.[2] The business was acquired by Charles Clore in 1953.[1] He renamed it Sears Holdings in 1955 and it went on to buy the Manfield and Dolcis shoe shop chains in 1956.[1] In the late 1950s Clore consolidated all the shoe brands Sears had acquired under the name British Shoe Corporation[1] under which name it also bought Saxone, Lilley & Skinner, another shoe shop chain, in 1962.[3]

Sears decided to invest in department stores in 1965 acquiring Lewis's Investment Trust which itself controlled Selfridges.[1] In 1966, Selfridges launched the Miss Selfridge department, which subsequently expanded to a store chain in its own right.[4]

In 1971 the company diversified again buying William Hill, a chain of bookmakers.[1]

The company bought Wallis in 1980 and Foster Brothers Clothing, which owned Adams Childrenswear, in 1985.[5] and in the same year was renamed Sears plc. It acquired Richard Shops in 1992.[6]

As at April 2005, the company was FTSE 100 listed and had the following brands:

Wallis, Warehouse, Miss Selfridge, Adams Childrenswear, Shoe Express, Shoe City, Saxone, Dolcis, Cable & Co, The Outfit, Lilley & Skinner, Freemans Catalogue Store, Selfridges, The Selfridges Hotel, Part ownership of The StEnoch's Shopping Centre in Glasgow, 3,000 retail shops being mostly leasehold with a few freehold jewels such as 190 Oxford Street and 330 Oxford Street known as the Top Shop flagship store.

In 1996 sold FHW, Manfield, True Form, Saxone and Curtess to entrepreneur Stephen Hinchliffe and his business Facia.[7] The remaining parts of British Shoe Corporation were sold by 1998, at an accounting loss of £150 million.[8]

Sears plc was acquired by January Investments on behalf of Philip Green in January 1999.[9] The womenswear business (comprising Warehouse, Richards, Wallis and Miss Selfridge) was subsequently transferred to Arcadia Group.[10] Philip Green later purchased the Arcadia Group, regaining control of Wallis and Miss Selfridge alongside Arcadia's other brands (Arcadia having closed Richards, and sold Warehouse to Rubicon Retail).

Sears Group Properties a wholly owned subsidiary was sold to the owner of Owen Owen department store and continues to operate as an outsourced property solution for other fashion brands.

SPDL (Sears Property Developments Limited), a wholly owned subsidiary of Sears plc was swallowed up by January Investments but the retail park development properties asset strip generated around £50 million. These included Parc Fforestfach (A483 Pontardulais Road, Swansea) and Westway Cross Retail Park (Greenford). The Sears Property Developments Limited team of four contributed in excess of £10 million per annum in profits between 1995 and 1999 and was Sears "secret weapon." The Times's unfavourable commentary regarding SPDL's property development pipeline (stating it was involved in risky developments) arguably led to Sears plc becoming a bid target.

Brands after demise of Sears[edit]

After taking on a raft of footwear brands, Stylo subsequently decided to consolidate the stores under their Barratts and PriceLess Shoes branding and many of the other brands (Lilley & Skinner, Trueform, Saxone, FHW) were axed. The deal meant Stylo had a surfeit of retail space in many locations, and so decided to sell off surplus stores to other operators, including Shoe Zone, or close them. Dolcis was not included in the original sale of shoe stores to Stylo and traded independently until 1998 when it was purchased by fashion retail group Alexon. The chain split off from Alexon in 2006, but collapsed into administration in 2008, with the rump of the chain purchased by Stylo. Lilley and Skinner brand then traded under the Stead and Simpson banner.

Adams Childrenswear - trading as 'Adams Kids' - remained on the high street until 2010, after some difficulties over the years, and collapsed into administration twice since 2006;[11] Former Stead & Simpson chairman John Shannon purchased a portion of the chain's outlets and the Adams brand,[12] before the company fell into administration for a third time in 2010.[13] The brand survives as an online business.[14]

William Hill plc is owned by private equity firms Cinven and CVC Capital Partners. It remains one of the UK's leading betting and gaming organisations.

Selfridges is owned by Canadian firm Galen Weston and has expanded beyond London with branches in Manchester and Birmingham.

Lewis's was split from Selfridges and was placed into Administration in 1991. Branches in Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, Leeds and Hanley were bought out by Owen Owen.

Richard Shops were closed down by Arcadia Group shortly after the firm took the chain over from Sears. Miss Selfridge and Wallis remain part of Arcadia, and the firm has also continued to develop and evolve the Outfit out-of-town fashion store format initially developed by Sears. Arcadia sold Warehouse as part of the deal which created Rubicon Retail in 2002. Subsequently, Rubicon merged with Mosaic Fashions, and following the collapse of Mosaic, Warehouse is in the hands of the new firm, Aurora Fashions, which took on many of Mosaic's brands.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Richard Davenport-Hines Clore, Sir Charles (1904–1979) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  2. ^ Andrew Godley, Business History Centre at Reading University American Multinationals and Innovation in British Retailing, 1850–1962 Helsinki Congress of the International Economic History Association, August 2006
  3. ^ PRIVATE MONOPOLIES Hansard, 14 February 1962
  4. ^ "UK fast fashion chain Miss Selfridge Australia-bound, report suggests - SmartCompany". SmartCompany. 2013-03-06. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  6. ^ Where class wins over cash The Guardian, 27 October 1991
  7. ^ "FACIA BUYS SAXONE AND CURTESS FROM SEARS - PR Newswire". Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  8. ^ Matthew Valentine (12 February 1998). "British Shoe misses its step". Design Week. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Sears turns to Green". BBC News. 21 January 1999. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
  10. ^ Sears sells womenswear business BBC News, 8 July 1999
  11. ^ Adams sheds 850 jobs as administrators close 111 shops, 5 February 2009
  12. ^ Childrenswear retailer Adams bought by former owner John Shannon The Telegraph, 14 February 2009
  13. ^ Childrenswear chain Adams falls back into administration, 22 January 2006
  14. ^ About Us Adams Kids