x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Landmark sets sights on $1bn deals

Landmark Group, a Dubai retail company, plans to buy as many as three companies worth up to a total of US$1 billion during next year.

Landmark Group, a Dubai retail company, plans to buy as many as three companies worth up to a total of US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in the course of the next year, according to its chairman Micky Jagtiani. The company, which recently bought the UK restaurant chain Carluccio's and the regional franchise for Fitness First, is eyeing a garment company headquartered in London, Mr Jagtiani said.

"We have a figure of two or three acquisitions a year," he said. "This is what we feel is digestible by us. We don't want to take too many small companies, and we cannot afford to take large companies … Three [acquisitions] a year would be ideal for us, but it would have to be the right thing for us to look at." Best known for its clothing chain stores such as Babyshop and Splash, Landmark has been aggressively expanding its portfolio in recent years. Its holdings include more than 940 retail outlets across the Middle East and the Oasis Centre mall on Sheikh Zayed Road, and it has branched out into hospitality with Citymax budget hotels this year.

While last year was a difficult period for retailers, with sales slipping by as much as 40 per cent for some segments, Landmark's mid-market brands have been relatively resilient. The company had turnover of $3.8bn in its last fiscal year, with growth of about 25 per cent. This year the group announced a $150m expansion of its store network across the Middle East over the next three years. Landmark has also been seeking out retail and hospitality-related investments.

Last month, the Landmark subsidiary C1 Acquisitions made a bid of £90.3m (Dh529.5m) to take over the Italian-style restaurant chain Carluccio's. The group said it planned to open more restaurants across the Middle East and India, and would scale up its existing network of restaurants in England. This month, Landmark bought the franchise rights to Fitness First health clubs for an undisclosed price from Saudi Arabia's Alhokair group.

Mr Jagtiani said there was another acquisition in the works - a global garment company with its headquarters in the UK - but declined to elaborate because it was a listed entity. Mahboob Murshed, the managing director of Alpen Capital in Dubai, said it was wise to make acquisitions such as Fitness First now. "It's a good time in the sense that the pricing is attractive, given the market conditions," he said. "Secondly, [Fitness First] is a good franchise, and they might not get this franchise again if things improve."

Fitness First, the largest privately owned health club group in the world, already has 16 outlets in the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Landmark plans to extend the portfolio into the 21 countries offered by the regional license, but it was too early to offer a timetable, Mr Jagtiani said. He expected that there to be a growing demand for fitness clubs, given the increasing health-consciousness in the region.

"This is a growing field and very new to this region … This is something we all need," he said. aligaya@thenational.ae