At the end of last year, high street stalwart HMV went into administration for the second time in six years. The 2013 collapse forced the closure of more than 100 stores, seeing HMV’s presence on the high street slashed in half as they sought a £300m lifeline. Fast forward to this year, and poor Christmas sales have put the business in a similar position.
The man stepping up to the fore this time around? None other than Mike Ashley, the saviour of the high street attempting to pull off “godlike” feats, or so he says. The Sports Direct mogul has a net worth of around £2.5b, which includes ownership of Premier League football club Newcastle United. Those who follow the football will be all-too-aware of Ashley’s reputation, but even those who are less familiar with the goings on at St James’ Park will have heard the name.
As increasing digital disruption takes its toll on the British high street, Ashley has stepped in to save a number of businesses from going bust. He could be confused for the Monopoly man, seemingly buying everything that is put up for sale, but does his track record give HMV reason to be hopeful should he take the reins? Here’s a look through his current portfolio.
This is where it all began. Ashley founded Sports Direct in the early 1980s funded by private family loans worth around £30,000. Almost 30 years later, the business is valued at £1.47b on the London Stock Exchange and owns the rights to brands such as Dunlop Slazenger, Karrimor and Lonsdale. Employing around 20,000 people in more than 400 stores and distribution centres, Sports Direct’s success has paved the way to Ashley’s high street dominance despite being renowned for their zero-hour contracts and poor working conditions.
House of Fraser
You might think that as an ever-present on the British high street, House of Fraser would command a much higher asking price than £90m – pocket change to Ashley. But last year, that’s the amount he shelled out to take on the struggling stores and save more than 16,000 jobs in the process, as well as claiming he would turn it into the “Harrods of the high street” and keep as many stores open as possible. So far, he has at least been able to keep shops in place, but reports suggest that House of Fraser suffered a 60 per cent fall in sales in the 12 weeks leading up to December, so the future looks far from bright.
One of Ashley’s plans to save House of Fraser is to merge the department stores with competitor Debenhams, of which he owns 29.7 per cent after upping his investment in quarter one of 2018. He even tried to invest a further £40m, but the ‘lifeline’ was rejected by Debenhams, amid concerns over the conditions laid out in the proposal. His previous investment in Debenhams, although accepted by the business, saw the profits of Sports Direct collapse by 72.5 per cent, highlighting the high-risk nature of Ashley’s strategy.
GAME Digital and the future of HMV
Mergers seem to be at the forefront on Ashley’s plans for the high street, including with the acquisition of HMV. One of the lesser-known elements of his portfolio is Game Digital, the parent company of video game store GAME. They have also faced closures, but not on a scale anywhere close to that of HMV. GAME have weathered the storm of digital disruption by transforming a shop into an experience with their Belong gaming arenas, offering a service that can’t be achieved by online competitors.
As with the proposed House of Fraser-Debenhams merger, bringing HMV and GAME together makes sense – they operate within similar sectors and can appeal to a wider audience by bringing the two stores under one roof. Transforming shops into physical experiences is the key to the high street’s survival, with brands like Waterstones – coincidentally, also owned by HMV – also maintaining their presence by offering something unique in store. Ashley has undoubtedly proven his business credentials with the success of Sports Direct, but his acquisitions have so far left little to be desired. Only time will tell if he’s the man to pull HMV through their troubles unscathed, but his track record will certainly leave employees and customers feeling a little sceptical.