For five generations, the Booth family has been selling tea and groceries across northwest England. Now, that 170-year history looks set to end, with the Preston-based chain looking for a buyer.
After a spell of turbulent trading that saw it fall to a loss of £6.3m last year, Booths has hired advisers from NM Rothschild to solicit takeover bids.
Retail industry sources estimate the chain will fetch between £130m and £150m, although the family is said to be holding out for a substantially higher price.
Nicknamed the “Waitrose of the North” in the grocery trade, Booths has 28 shops in prime locations across Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
The business was founded in 1847 by tea dealer Edwin Henry Booth with the opening of the China House in Blackpool. Today, its stores employ more than 2,800 people. The family, which is divided into different factions, owns about 96% of the company with the rest owned by staff.
Its long-standing chief executive Chris Dee stepped down earlier this year and leadership returned to the family, with Edwin Booth, 62, taking on chairman and chief executive roles.
Last year’s loss compared with a £1.1m profit a year earlier. Nonetheless, there had been fears that Booths would breach loan terms.
The family has resisted rumoured approaches from rivals in the past, including Safeway and Waitrose. However, the sales process is expected to prompt all Britain’s big grocers to run a slide rule over the business.
Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: “The wild card would be whether Amazon, after buying Whole Foods in the US as a premium player, will think about going from online to offline.” The company declined to comment on a proposed valuation. “Booths has been retailing for more than 170 years and it remains a very strong, resilient and well-loved brand,” it said. “One of our strengths has been our ability to adapt to changing market conditions, and naturally we always keep our strategic options open.”