Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s Richest Man, Rebuilds A 261-Year-Old British Icon

Mukesh Ambani, 63, purchased Hamleys in 2019 to strengthen his retail footprint. (File)

A struggling 261-year-old U.Ok. toy-store chain is looking for a brand new lease of life within the palms of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, who’s trying to India the place a couple of fifth of the world’s infants are born to gas its revival.  

Hamleys, a British retail icon that hasn’t made a revenue for quite a lot of years, plans to quadruple its retailers within the former British colony to greater than 500 in three years regardless of the pandemic, in accordance with Darshan Mehta, chief govt officer of Mr Ambani’s Reliance Brands Ltd. Besides the principle progress market, the corporate can also be including shops from Europe to South Africa and China, he mentioned in an interview.

Mr Ambani, 63, purchased Hamleys in 2019 to strengthen his retail footprint as a part of the continued transformation of his oil-and-chemicals conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. right into a client and know-how behemoth. The deep pockets of Asia’s richest man and India’s demographics may assist breathe new life into Hamleys, whose share of worldwide toy gross sales was estimated at 0.6% final 12 months by Euromonitor International, and see it avert the pitfalls confronted by rivals similar to Toys “R” Us Inc.

With a backer whose web value is $72 billion, Hamleys is looking for to faucet into what it sees as an inadequately serviced part of India’s virtually 1.4 billion folks, of which about 27% are kids underneath 14. The nation accounts for simply 1% of the $90 billion world toy trade, that means the potential for progress is excessive, Mr Mehta mentioned.

“There is a lot of headroom and India is no way near saturation,” Mr Mehta mentioned. “We are now mulling how we can roll out stores in newer geographies and new formats.”

Hamleys shops are famed for the carnival-like expertise, permitting kids to race toy vehicles, get pleasure from mannequin prepare units and play varied video games. In a rustic like India, with its densely packed cities and restricted leisure choices, such an atmosphere could possibly be a hook to get clients to go to once more. Product costs interesting to consumers of modest means in addition to the super-rich make Hamleys an “elastic brand,” mentioned Mr Mehta.

In Asia, Hamleys is seen as “high class and it’s on par with Harrods in some ways,” mentioned Marc Alonso, a London-based senior analysis analyst at Euromonitor. “So it’s attracting that customer base, which is why in some places like India and China, it has been seeing some good sales growth in the past few years.”

While the pandemic has been hitting components of India’s economic system, Mr Mehta sees the toy trade as “recession proof” as a result of many households select the happiness of children over the rest. 

But different chains have struggled earlier than the virus. Toys “R” Us was the most important sufferer of the U.S. retail apocalypse when it filed for chapter in 2017, crushed by debt and felled by competitors from on-line sellers similar to Inc. Though the American chain is on a restoration path now underneath a brand new proprietor, a protracted pandemic factors to an unsure future for retailers.

Nailing on-line gross sales is essential to avoiding the destiny of different high-end toy chains, in accordance with Reliance. As a part of Mr Ambani’s e-commerce and know-how pivot, his group is constructing Jiomart, a procuring portal, to tackle giants similar to and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart within the native market. Reliance Industries has roped in Facebook Inc. and Google as buyers to gas these ambitions.

With Covid-19 accelerating the group’s digital technique, Mr Mehta expects 30% of Hamleys’ gross sales coming from orders on-line in 5 years, versus 20% now. Direct promoting over the cellphone or through WhatsApp would account for 20% in the identical interval, he mentioned.

Euromonitor’s Alonso mentioned that concentrate on could also be too formidable as a result of some clients may go to a different portal that provides cheaper costs. “You can get the same product much cheaper by going straight to Lego, for example, on their e-commerce site,” mentioned Alonso.

Founded by William Hamley in 1760, Hamleys has seen its share of troubles. Ownership of the London-based chain has modified a minimum of 3 times prior to now decade alone — from an Icelandic financial institution to a French group after which to a Chinese vogue retailer. Two years in the past, Mr Ambani snapped it up for about $89 million in money. Hamleys’ most up-to-date books for 2019 present a lack of virtually 9 million kilos ($12.4 million) on income of about 48 million kilos.


Environmental providers clear outdoors of the Regent Street retailer forward of a reopening final 12 months, on June 11. The flagship retailer has been closed for a lot of the previous 12 months.

The onset of the pandemic simply months after Reliance took management compounded Hamleys’ monetary misery within the U.Ok., the place it runs 21 retailers. Like most outlets within the abandoned streets of London, its grand seven-story Regent Street flagship retailer that opened in 1881 remained closed for a lot of the previous 12 months till earlier this week, whereas it reduce 1 / 4 of its employees to climate the disaster.

Mr Mehta believes the U.Ok. operations will “come out very strongly” with non-essential shops reopening this week following the easing of curbs. Another coronavirus wave may quickly disrupt the enterprise globally — like delayed plans for the U.S., a promote it needs to crack.

Prior to the acquisition of the chain, Reliance had the grasp franchise for Hamleys in India. The retail unit of Reliance can also be the native associate for over 45 worldwide manufacturers together with Burberry, Hugo Boss, Jimmy Choo and Tiffany & Co., in accordance with the corporate’s web site.

The pandemic has restricted Hamleys’ India goal to simply about 50 new shops this 12 months earlier than the roll out picks up tempo. The toy retailer is taking a look at retailers within the U.S. this 12 months or subsequent, relying on journey restrictions, in addition to in vacationer scorching spots in European international locations, together with France and Italy, the Reliance govt mentioned.


Mukesh Ambani purchased Hamleys in 2019 to strengthen his presence in retail.

Still, India is prone to be a key market, mentioned Arvind Singhal, chairman of Indian retail consultancy Technopak Advisors. With about 26 million kids born within the nation annually, Hamleys is unlikely to be wanting clients there even when solely the highest 5% of the inhabitants can afford to buy at its retailer, he mentioned.

“Toys is one category where emotions sometimes overtake your financial abilities,” mentioned Mr Singhal. “Hamleys is probably one of the best investments from Mr. Ambani’s point of view in retail — the visibility the Hamleys brand has in India is unparalleled.”

–With help from Bhuma Shrivastava.

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