Sports Direct in swoop for fashion chain Flannels

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A DESIGNER clothing chain with a store in Yorkshire has been snapped up by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct business.

Neil Prosser, who opened the first Flannels shop in Knutsford, Cheshire in 1976, has sold a 51 per cent stake in the business for an undisclosed sum.

Flannels – one of the UK’s largest independent luxury retailers – has branded stores in Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Liverpool, Birmingham and Cardiff and sells labels including Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford and Moncler.

It also sells its goods through a factory outlet in Salford Quays and operates a store branded Life in Manchester.

Over the past year, Sports Direct has been building up a premium clothing division by taking stakes in retailers including USC, Cruise and Van Mildert to help it better compete with rival JD Sports, which owns the Bank, Scotts and Cecil Gee brands.

Mr Prosser will retain a 49 per cent stake in the firm and will continue as managing director following the “transformational” deal.

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said: “It’s a tiny deal in the scheme of things (for Mike Ashley), but this is all about scoring points against his bitter rivals JD Sports and burnishing his more upmarket credentials by building the premium lifestyle division.”

Analysts think the luxury market has potential for growth because it is currently under served by retailers and has held up better than the rest of the high street since the financial crisis.

Sports Direct, which has nearly 400 stores and owns brands including Slazenger, Donnay and Karrimor, has been one of the star performers of the high street in recent years thanks to its strong value offering.

In full-year results next week, Sports Direct is expected to report that underlying earnings rose 15.5 per cent to £231m in the year to April, on revenues up 10 per cent to £1.8bn.

In April, it was revealed Mr Ashley could net a one-off shares bonus worth about £24m after Sports Direct raised a proposed payout.

At the time, Sports Direct said it would ask shareholders at its annual meeting in September to back the grant of eight million shares to Ashley, up from the six million shares proposed in December 2011.