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Football Pools owner strides into Clarks sale

The owner of the Football Pools is plotting to buy a stake in Clarks, the 195-year-old shoe retailer which has been forced to slash its workforce amid the COVID-19 downturn.

Sky News has learnt that OpCapita, which flirted with controversy during its ownership of Comet, the electrical goods retailer, is among a small number of parties vying to provide new funding to Clarks.

Sources said that Sycamore Partners, a US-based buyout firm specialising in retail and consumer industry investments, was also in talks about becoming a shareholder in the Somerset-based business.

Sycamore came close to taking control of Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie brand owned by L Brands, but called off the deal when the pandemic struck.

At least one other party is said to be in talks with Clarks about a deal.

Sky News revealed in May that the footwear chain was in discussions about a share sale that would dilute its family shareholders’ controlling stake in the company.

Between £100m and £150m is likely to be injected into the business as part of any deal.

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In May, Clarks’ new chief executive, Giorgio Presca, unveiled a strategy – dubbed “Made to Last” – that will aim to steer it into its third century of operation.

His plans involve 900 job losses, with 200 new roles being created.

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Sources said on Friday that Mr Presca had recruited Suzanne McKenna, a former head of the lingerie brand Triumph, as the managing director of the company’s own-brand Clarks unit.

A Clarks spokesperson confirmed that Ms McKenna would join the company in August.

“As part of our transformation strategy announced in May, we revealed that the Clarks brand portfolio has been organised across three distinct business units that each represent a unique consumer segment. Clarks Originals; Clarks; Collection by Clarks and Cloudsteppers by Clarks,” he said.

“These three new global business units own everything from product proposition, design, innovation, price, performance and marketing.”

A triumvirate of accountancy firms are working on a restructuring of Clarks as it tries to weather the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the high street.

The chain’s family shareholders have drafted in KPMG to advise them, while Deloitte has been hired by the company’s management team.

PricewaterhouseCoopers had been engaged by a syndicate of the footwear chain’s lenders as they assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on its prospects.

The string of appointments come after a difficult period for Clarks, which was founded in 1825 and has become synonymous with generations of parents buying their child’s first pair of shoes.

It remains largely owned by descendants of Cyrus and James Clark, who founded the business in Somerset nearly 200 years ago.

Clarks trades from about 345 stores in the UK, employing thousands of people, but has denied that it will be exploring a Company Voluntary Arrangement, a widely used insolvency mechanism that would – if approved by creditors – pave the way for a radical restructuring.

The company has furloughed thousands of its store staff under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

In the last year for which figures are available, Clarks reported a post-tax loss of more than £80m.

A Clarks spokesman declined to comment on the talks with private equity firms, while OpCapita and Sycamore also declined to comment.

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