Mike Ashley to defy odds with opening of giant Flannels stores

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group is thumbing its nose at the high street downturn by opening of three giant flagship stores for its designer fashion chain Flannels – and plans for 15 more in the next five years.

The former House of Fraser at the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, and a former Owen Owen department store in Liverpool, are to become Flannels outlets, as well as a site in a new development at Leicester’s Fosse Park shopping centre.

The seven-floor, 120,000 sq ft (11,148 sq metre) Liverpool store will include a fitness studio, rooftop restaurant and a beauty hall, which will be a new venture for Flannels. The stores in Sheffield and Leicester will also be larger than 30,000 sq ft – about twice the size of the Flannels flagship on Oxford Street in London – and will also house beauty halls and fitness studios.

Michael Murray, the “head of elevation” at Frasers, said Liverpool had an “unmatched appetite for the type of luxury we do best”. He added that high streets wanted destination stores with experiences on offer. “We recognise that communities are welcoming exciting, much-needed additions to their high streets with open arms,” he said.

The company said the outlets would be “next-generation stores”, describing them as “modern, agile retail spaces” offering “runway collections” alongside new and emerging brands.

The Liverpool and Meadowhall outlets had been expected to be converted to the group’s upmarket Frasers department store brand, throwing into question plans for the mini-chain, five of which were meant to open this year.

The opening of what will effectively be three luxury department stores comes despite a grim year for such retail spaces in 2020. Ashley’s House of Fraser chain has closed seven stores in the past year, taking the total to 45. John Lewis has closed eight and Debenhams, which is in administration and hoping for a rescue deal from Frasers, has already closed 40.

Flannels, which mostly sells luxury streetwear such as Balenciaga trainers for more than £500 or Stone Island sweatshirts for £220, has proved an apparent success – expanding from 12 stores to 40 stores in four years.

Maureen Hinton of the retail analysis firm GlobalData said the plans for the giant Flannels stores were “high risk” at a difficult time for retail in the UK. She said that other luxury department stores, such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, had struggled outside London.

“Selfridges know a lot about luxury retail and the fact that they are not bothering to open more [stores outside London] indicates there’s a limit to what you can do,” Hinton said.

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