Couple pen a happy ending for Whitcoulls

By Jamie Gray

Anne Norman and David Norman. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Anne Norman and David Norman. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The troubled Whitcoulls and Borders chains have been sold to the husband-and-wife team behind Farmers, with indications that the majority of stores will remain open.

The bookstore chains' futures were shrouded in uncertainty after their Australian owners, REDGroup, went into voluntary administration in February, owing unsecured creditors $21.5 million.

But Anne and David Norman's deal struck yesterday "guarantees the future of the majority of stores and has preserved more than 900 jobs", according to Steve Sherman of Sydney administrators Ferrier Hodgson.

Mr Sherman added that the sale was a "a very good result" but declined to reveal the price.

The National Distribution Union said it was cautiously optimistic, with general secretary Robert Reid saying the 900 workers involved would welcome the news that their jobs were now more secure.

The chains have been sold to Project Mark, a company in the Normans' James Pascoe Group.

The group operates Pascoes, Farmers, Stewart Dawsons, Goldmark, Stevens, Prouds and Angus & Coote and employs more than 9000 staff in New Zealand and Australia.

The sale includes 57 Whitcoulls stores and five Borders stores.

The Normans will approach the stores' landlords shortly to discuss ongoing tenancy and will also be talking with workers over the next few days about terms of employment.

The sale is expected to be completed by mid-June.


Paul Keane, the executive chairman of retail consultancy RCG, said the sale was good for the Whitcoulls brand.

"'I think the Normans will trade it very well and in time it will become an outstanding performer.

"They have got a great reputation for doing things properly and I do not doubt that they will do it very well."

Mr Keane said that Borders
was also a good brand.

"My view is that they will keep it and see how it trades, and then revive it over time."

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

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

True to form, they were not available for comment yesterday.

They have a strong history in retail and revived the Farmers brand after buying it from Australia's Foodland Associated for $123 million in 2003.

David Norman began his career working for supermarket pioneers Tom Ah Chee and Norman Kent at Foodtown Kelston.

He has said he and his wife do not take profits out of their companies.

"We don't. We just let them grow."

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 mail order business that became Farmers.

THE DEAL

Sold: Whitcoulls and Borders.
To: Project Mark Ltd, a company owned by Farmers team Anne and David Norman.
Price: Confidential.
Future: Sale guarantees the future of the majority of stores and has preserved more than 900 jobs.

- NZ Herald

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