Hamleys store
STORE SPACES

India’s richest man buys famed British toy store chain

BY Marianne Wilson

Hamley, the world’s oldest toy retailer, is set to be acquired by Reliance Brands Ltd., part of a Mumbai-based conglomerate owned by Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India.

Reliance Brands agreed to purchase the 259-year-old Hamleys, which operates 167 stores in 18 countries, from C.Banner International Holdings Ltd. for almost 68 million pounds ($88.5 million) in cash. The acquisition is the first of an overseas retail brand by Reliance, which operates more than 420 stores and 350 in-store shops in India, including 88 franchised Hamleys stores. Its portfolio of brand partnerships also includes Burberry, Michael Kors, Coach, Pottery Barn, Steve Madden and more.

Hamleys is best known for its flagship on London’s Regent Street. Opened in 1881, the seven-floor, 54,000-sq.-ft. store is one of London’s top tourist attractions and is known for its elaborate displays, toy demonstrations and year-round schedule of events. But similar to other toy chains, its sales have been challenged in recent years by online and discount competitors.

In a statement, Reliance Brands said that Hamleys pioneered the concept of experiential retailing “decades before the concept of creating unique experiences in brick-and-mortar retailing became the new global norm.”

“The worldwide acquisition of the iconic Hamleys brand and business places Reliance into the frontlines of global retail,” said Reliance Brands CEO Darshan Mehta.

During the past several years, reports have circulated that Hamleys was looking to enter the U.S. In December, it was reported that the chain was close to finalizing a deal to open a store in Manhattan’s Herald Square area. And in 2015, the retailer retained JLL to facilitate a multiple store roll-out throughout the United States. But so far, Hamleys not opened any U.S. stores.

Hamleys has had a succession of various owners in recent years. Hong Kong-based C. Banner bought the company from France’s Ludendo Groupe in 2015. Prior to that, it was owned by a now-defunct Icelandic investment group, which bought it off the stock exchange in 2003.

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