Saturday, October 16, 2010

Harrods set to change with new owners

Harrods the high end department store in London may see changes after being bought by the Qatar royal family for £1.5 billion. There are suggestions of a rooftop hotel and more branches in cities abroad. Harrods was founded by Charles Henry Harrod in 1824 and moved to its current Knightsbridge location in 1849. Since then is has seen many changes and been through several changes of ownership. Its most recent owner was Mohamed Fayed who courted controversy with accusation that Prince Philip had ordered the assassination of Princess Diana. She had died in a Paris car crash along with Mohamed Fayed's son Dodi. The accusations led to royal seals being withdrawn. There is to this day a memorial on the lower ground floor.

The new owners will undoubtedly capitalise on the Harrods name. The store is famous the world over for its opulence with several of its departments, including the seasonal Christmas department and the Food Halls [pictured] being particularly renowned. The motto, Omnia Omnibus Ubique (All Things for All People, Everywhere) has been its intention since its early beginnings, and despite what many might think there are products available to suite most people's pockets.

In the past it was however the rich and famous who shopped at the store, among them Oscar Wilde, Lillie Langtry, Ellen Terry, Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Sigmund Freud, A. A. Milne, and many members of the British Royal Family.

But Harrods has diversified and attracts tourists from far and wide. The dress code has changed over the years and Fayed himself introduced stricter ules banning Burmuda shorts, swim wear and flip-flops. The store still retains many standards. Doormen are employed to assist shoppers and service extends beyond the average department store.

What the new acquisition will mean is not entirely clear. But reports in some papers have hinted that Qatar Holdings may be planning a hotel. Such a venture would indeed be popular amongst wealthy foreign visitors. "You can imagine some people virtually living in it," said one industry source. Following the Evening Standard's revelation of the hotel plan, managing director Michael Ward said it was a serious possibility, although no definite decisions have been taken. "Are we looking at it? Yes. Have we considered it? Yes. It is something we would do."

Plans for extending the brand to other shores has yet to be finalised but Michael Ward has stated that Chinese shoppers in Harrods is increasing and the average spend by a Chinese shopper is three times that of the average American. The business was left in good financial shape by Mohamed Fayed. Turnover in the year to the end of January rose 12% to £519.8million, while profits soared almost 40%, from £56.2 million to £77.7 million. An expansion into parts of Asia may well increase those healthy profits [Vogue / Evening Standard / BBCHarrods].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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