Farmers owners eye Whitcoulls buy

By Karyn Scherer, Kelly Gregor

Anne and David Norman were estimated to be worth a collective $400 million in 2010. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Anne and David Norman were estimated to be worth a collective $400 million in 2010. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The rich-list Norman family behind retailer Farmers and jewellery store Pascoes are strongly tipped to buy Whitcoulls.

There has been speculation about who will buy the book chain and industry insiders claim "word on the street" is the Normans are set to seal the deal.

Anne and David Norman were estimated to be worth a collective $400 million in 2010, according to the National Business Review Rich List.

Anne Norman declined to comment when the Business Herald called their Remuera home last night.

A publishing industry source, who did not want to be named, said the Normans' bid could be positive for the industry because the couple had a good record with their other businesses.

"But we're all waiting to see what their plans are, and if they plan to close any stores."

The Normans are media shy, giving what is believed to be their first interview to the Herald in September 2009.

They have a strong history in retail and revived the Farmers brand after buying it in 2003.

The couple preside over Pascoes, a giant retailer with 611 outlets across New Zealand and Australia, Stewart Dawsons, Prouds, Goldmark, Angus & Coote, Stevens and Farmers.

They bought Farmers for $123 million from Australian supermarket operator Foodland Associated.

Anne Norman is the granddaughter of James Pascoe, who opened his first jewellery store in Ponsonby three years before hardware salesman Robert Laidlaw launched the Fort St mail order business that became Farmers.

David Norman began his career working for supermarket pioneers Tom Ah Chee and Norman Kent at Foodtown Kelston. He told the Herald during the September interview that they do not take profits out of their companies. "We don't. We just let them grow," he said.

Farmers chief executive Rod McDermott said in September 2009 that the Normans tended to return businesses to their core proposition and focus on the customers, the stock and the shops.

REDGroup, which owns Whitcoulls, Borders and Bennetts, went into voluntary administration on February 17. It owes unsecured creditors $21.5 million.

Ten Whitcoulls stores at airports and eight Bennetts stores at universities were sold last month. About 62 Whitcoulls and five Borders stores are still for sale, plus the Australian arm of the business.

Landlords have been told an announcement about the New Zealand business is imminent, and all the stores are believed to have conducted stocktakes in the past week.

While most New Zealand staff are expected to retain their jobs, many publishers believe a deal is likely to mean the closure of Borders in New Zealand.

It is understood that The Warehouse, which had also been tipped to put in an offer for Whitcoulls, was not interested, but the rival PaperPlus chain is believed to have shown interest.

- NZ Herald

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