DRAGONS’ Den panel member Peter Jones has emerged as a rival to Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley in the race for Blacks Leisure.
A spokesman for the entrepreneur has confirmed that Jones has tabled a bid for the troubled clothing retailer, which is likely to be sold under a pre-pack administration deal.
Jones and Ashley are believed to be two of the four potential buyers for the company, and they are also understood to face competition from sportswear firm JD Sports.
While Ashley is known for his ownership of Newcastle United as well as his Sports Direct business, Jones is an established investor on the BBC reality show Dragons’ Den.
Jones is worth about £220m according to the Sunday Times Rich List, and has a portfolio including businesses in the television, media, leisure and property sectors.
Yesterday was the deadline for bids for Blacks, which owns 98 Blacks stores and 208 Millets outlets. It has said it does not expect an offer for the group’s shares, with buyers circling around its trade, assets and brands instead.
Blacks employs 3,600 staff at its stores and at its head office in Northamptonshire. The head office costs it £26m-a-year, including rent and staff wages, and it is believed that any new owner may look in that area for cutbacks. A pre-pack administration would see poorly-performing stores closed and most of the £36m debt wiped out.
Major shareholder Sports Direct walked away from buy-out talks, but is believed to be a forerunner to buy Blacks out of administration. It owns 22.5% of Blacks Leisure.
Retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mill and outdoor firm Mountain Warehouse have also been mentioned as potential buyers for Blacks, although it has not been confirmed whether these companies are among the list of four remaining in the process.