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The family of billionaire Galen Weston has got the nod from Selfridges PLC for an offer of roughly $960-million (U.S.) to acquire the prestigious British department store chain, a move that could add some sparkle to Mr. Weston's high-end Holt Renfrew.

The acquisition would breathe new ideas -- and fashions -- into the Weston family's other upscale department store holdings, including Holt Renfrew in Canada and Brown Thomas in Ireland, said Anthony Graham, president of Wittington Investments Ltd., the family's private company.

"We want to be able to bring new lines into the different stores, bring new ideas, new initiatives and new events," Mr. Graham said in a telephone interview from London. "Having a think tank of international retailers like this is going to be very beneficial for everybody."

He said Holt's undoubtedly would see some new concepts and products in short order, courtesy of Selfridges.

The profitable, publicly traded landmark retailer has made its mark over the past five years by transforming itself from a dowdy merchant into a destination for trendy brands, stylish presentations, tempting in-store restaurants and unusual window displays and events.

Now some of that energy and appeal will rub off on Holt's if the deal is approved by shareholders and regulatory authorities over the next couple of months, industry observers predict.

"It would be a huge plus for Holt's to be able to plug into Selfridges," said retail consultant John Torella, a partner with J.C. Williams Group Ltd. in Toronto. "It's a win-win."

As well, the acquisition would bring considerable cost savings as Holt's and Brown Thomas tap into suppliers' ties with Selfridges, and its marketing clout, he said.

For example, Holt's may be able to get better deals in placing ads in international media, such as Vogue fashion magazine, if it can piggy-back on Selfridges' buying power.

What is more, Holt's will be able to cash in on Selfridges' international fashion sense, bringing a more global perspective to Holt's already globe-trotting customer, he said.

Meanwhile, the move could help Holt's to attract a younger well-to-do customer, something it has been struggling to do for years -- and something that Selfridges has achieved, said Richard Talbot at Talbot Consultants International Inc. in Markham, Ont. "It may just add that extra oomph."

Selfridges now operates three stores, its flagship in London and two in Manchester, and plans another in Birmingham in September and further outlets over the next several years in a total of eight or nine British cities, he said.

Under Weston rule, Selfridges would continue under its current strategy, keeping the same management in place under chief executive officer Peter Williams, who reportedly was leading a management bid to buy out the chain, Mr. Graham said.

He said Selfridges, Holt's and Brown Thomas would continue to be run separately, and he would not quantify cost-saving opportunities among the chains. "There's always that side of it."

But he said customers will see new products, greater fashion authority and "more fun to the whole event" at all the stores.

Holt's has already felt the influences of Selfridges' ideas, Mr. Talbot, the consultant, said.

For example, last year the nine-store Canadian chain (plus two clearance outlets) attracted attention when it launched a new café that, among other things, has renowned Poilane bread flown in from Paris (although some food critics have complained of day-old bread).

Holt's also has staged high-profile promotional events to lure more business, such as last year's multimillion-dollar Viva Italia to showcase Italian designers and their lifestyle.

Andrew Jennings, president of Holt's, is a British retail veteran and, in his latter years in that country, acted as a consultant to help to freshen Brown Thomas, which operates four stores in Ireland. Mr. Jennings could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Weston's family interests include upmarket Fortnum & Mason, which is known for its luxury food, and Associated British Foods PLC. In Canada, he is chairman of grocer Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and food giant George Weston Ltd., both leaders in their fields.

The purchase caps weeks of speculation about the heated race to buy Selfridges, and British reports yesterday indicated some parties may still submit offers.

The Weston acquisition is being done by Oxford Acquisitions, a subsidiary of Wittington.

Under the proposal, the Weston-controlled firm would pay £3.9225 ($8.79) a share for the chain, a 60-per-cent premium on Selfridges' share price before the talks were announced.

The agreement also calls for the assumption of about $48.5-million of Selfridges' debt.

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