LONDON (Reuters) - Billionaire Philip Green, owner of the Topshop-to-Bhs Arcadia stores group, said it was no use retailers moaning about the prospect of a prolonged economic downturn, they had to raise their game and get on with it.
Last week the Bank of England warned Britain faced years of meagre economic growth and rising prices, adding its ability to numb the pain was nearing its limit.
“We’ve got to trade. I can’t keep listening to all these people making it up as they go along,” Green told Reuters in an interview at his flagship Topshop store on London’s Oxford Street.
“We’re here in the streets, we’ve got 45,000 staff, we’ve got a 500 million pounds payroll, we’ve got to make it work,” he said.
The 60-year-old entrepreneur said just as consumers had adjusted to a squeeze in their disposable income, so retailers had to refine their business models accordingly, constantly providing new quality products at even better value.
“We’ve got to up our game. If we sit there and cry and put on my front window the Bank of England said X, it isn’t going to help me take any money,” he said.
Monaco-based Green, who was knighted in 2006 and in 2010 published a government-commissioned report on efficiency savings, was speaking ahead of the release of his firm’s annual results on Wednesday.
These showed a 25 percent rise in underlying pretax profit to 170 million pounds for the year ended August 25, despite flat sales, as improvements in managing stock helped to cut markdowns and lift margins. Profit fell 38 percent last year.
British retailers are mostly struggling as consumers hold back spending in the face of rising prices, subdued wages growth, government austerity measures and job insecurity.
Arcadia, which also trades as the Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Wallis and Evans brands from about 2,500 UK stores, is one of the country’s biggest private employers. It also has 615 franchised outlets in 39 countries.
Green, having championed and invested in London’s Fashion Retail Academy, would like to see government incentivise companies to invest in more training across all industries.
“If they want all these people off the street we’ve got to get people trained, let’s start there,” he said.
Green, who bought department store chain Bhs for 200 million pounds in 2000, Arcadia for 850 million pounds in 2002 and has twice tried and failed to buy Marks & Spencer (MKS.L), said he was not averse to doing another major deal if the right one crossed his table.
“There’s sort of two or three things in my head. If they ever turned up, we’d have to look at them,” he said, declining to elaborate.
If there was a major consolidation in the market place Arcadia would “want to have a seat at the table,” and finance would not be an issue.
“Do I think I could go and find one, two, three, four billion pounds tonight? Yes I do. Do I think the banks would back me to go and find money? Absolutely, we’ve delivered on everything we said we’d do.”
Green’s family ranked 17th on the 2012 Sunday Times UK rich list with an estimated fortune of 3.3 billion pounds, having ranked 13th on the 2011 list. However, he said his wealth had not diminished in the recession.
Pulling out a wad of fifty pound notes from his trouser pocket, he said: “I’d rather talk about things I understand. This is money. We have not made any soppy investments. Either corporately or my family did not lose any money in the downturn.”
“What’s the value of the business? Who cares? It’s what somebody wants to pay for it if you want to sell it.”
Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Potter