A tycoon dubbed the ‘Del Boy billionaire’ has saved the Wilko brand – but all 398 stores are still set to close with the loss of thousands of jobs.
The Range – which was set up and is run by entrepreneur Chris Dawson – yesterday finalised a deal to buy the Wilko name, website and intellectual property for £5m.
The agreement will see The Range sell Wilko products in its stores and online – though just 36 jobs at Wilko’s website team will be saved.
Separate deals already struck with B&M and Poundland mean 122 Wilko stores employing 3,200 staff will reopen under their names – raising hopes that further jobs will be saved.
But the failure to find a buyer for the whole business means the majority of the 12,500-workforce look set to lose their jobs.
Wheeler dealer: The Range – which was set up by Chris Dawson (pictured) – finalised a deal to buy the Wilko name, website and intellectual property for £5m
Jane Steer, Wilko administrator at auditor PwC, said: ‘Since our appointment, the feedback from customers and wider stakeholders during this challenging period has reinforced the fact that Wilko remains a much loved and trusted brand within the UK.
‘This sale to The Range will ensure that the Wilko name lives on under their ownership and we wish The Range every success.’
The Range was set up by Dawson in 1989 on a business park in his native Plymouth and now has 213 stores across the UK selling homeware and garden products.
The 71-year-old entrepreneur, who started in business selling seafood from the back of a van at markets, has previously said he has tried to emulate Topshop tycoon Philip Green and Only Fools And Horses character Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter.
Dawson’s love of the latter is evident by his £250,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith coupe that sports £35,000 DE11 BOY number plates.
Dawson and his wife Sarah ranked 85th on The Sunday Times’ Rich List this year with a fortune of £2billion, rubbing shoulders with Ovo Energy founder Stephen Fitzpatrick and hedge fund manager Chris Rokos.
He has described The Range as ‘a poor man’s John Lewis’ – but that hasn’t stopped it attracting well-heeled customers.
The Princess of Wales was seen doing last-minute Christmas shopping in 2018 at the King’s Lynn branch near the Norfolk home she shared with Prince William.
Speaking to The Daily Mail about his success nearly a decade ago, Dawson said: ‘When I realised I had become a billionaire, I cried. Good achievement, yes, but I felt frightened, lonely and hollow. I thought this is the end, the show is over, what do I do for an encore? It’s nice, but I am no happier being a billionaire.’
He grew up on Plymouth Sound, a council estate in the city, and said his family was so poor when he was a child that he didn’t own a pair of underpants until he was 12.
Dawson’s time in the spotlight, however, has not been without controversies. He is said to have saved millions of pounds in tax by reportedly handing over ownership of his main business to his wife – who lives in Jersey.
Dawson met her when he was selling watches as a trader, when his nickname was ‘Dickie Dirt’ Dawson.
Danni Hewson, head of financial analysis at investment platform AJ Bell, said: ‘The Range boss has never been one to shy away from his wheeling and dealing roots and there is a touch of a superior jumble sale in the way the retail business shoehorns a startling array of stuff onto its shelves.
‘But as the past few weeks have highlighted, it’s not enough to simply put things up for sale and expect that people will buy them.
‘The Range has relevance to a huge range of people and not just because it stocks a lot of stuff but because it stocks the right stuff.
‘Chris Dawson makes no apologies for the way he’s grown his business. He seeks out dying retailers and grabs the bits he wants on the cheap. But you don’t succeed without a bit of nous, a bit of steel and a lot of luck.’
Welcoming the deal, Dawson said: ‘These are exciting times for The Range, I am delighted that Wilko will join our family of companies.’