The casual fashion chain Fat Face is set for a stock market flotation in the first half of this year after appointing two advisers. The retailer, which is chaired by former Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose , has hired Citi and Jefferies to sound out potential investors as it seeks a London listing, with March the earliest likely date. Lazard , the investment bank, has been advising Fat Face on its flotation hopes since early last month. The retailer has decided to move ahead after enjoying a steady Christmas. Sales rose 5% in the five weeks to 4 January after a 15% rise to pounds 99m in the six months to 30 November. Underlying earnings rose 57% to pounds 19.6m as online sales rose 55%, six new stores were opened and the company cut its debts by pounds 19.7m to pounds 111.5m. Founded by "ski bums" Jules Leaver and Tim Slade , who began selling printed T-shirts out of their rucksacks in the French Alps in 1988, Fat Face opened its first store, in Fulham, south-west London , in 1992. The founders sold up in 2005 to private equity firm Advent International , which sold the company on to another private equity group, Bridgepoint , at the peak of the buyout market in 2007 for pounds 360m. The business had a difficult few years as the credit crunch hit, with Bridgepoint forced to inject more money to keep it going, but has seen a revival since hiring former M&S retail director and George at Asda boss Anthony Thompson in 2010. This month, Thompson, the chief executive, said: "The further expansion of our UK store portfolio and the rapid development of our multi-channel offer has led to another half-year of double-digit sales and profit growth." His plans include the launch of three stores and a dedicated US website within the next 18 months. Although the company made underlying profits of pounds 31.2m in the year to June and is on track to make close to pounds 40m this year, one analyst, who declined to be named, suggested that Bridgepoint might struggle to float Fat Face at a premium to the price it paid six years ago. The analyst said: "There is a good management team and the brand still has growth to come in the UK , which investors love, but the question is, do people get the brand proposition?" John Stevenson , an analyst at KBC Peel Hunt, said that after the rounds of private equity ownership Fat Face might have a way to go to convince investors of its growth potential, particularly in the US, where it was up against a plethora of lifestyle brands. "There is a raft of companies coming to the market so investors can afford to be a bit more careful," he said. A string of retailers are due to try their luck on the London stock market this year as interest in consumer-facing companies rises. Online fashion brand Boohoo.com is thought likely to come to the market in the first quarter after a first attempt in the autumn failed to get off the ground. Appliances Online, Poundland, Pets at Home and Card Factory have also been tipped to join the public markets in the first half of 2014. Department store House of Fraser , which is also considering a listing, released a very upbeat Christmas trading statement, but some analysts believe its flotation hopes could be hit by the trials of fellow department store Debenhams , which issued a profits warning after heavy discounting over the festive season.
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