Former Dragon Theo Paphitis slams George Osborne and David Cameron for "screwing" the retail sector

 
Shruti Tripathi Chopra
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Theo Paphitis launched Boux Avenue in 2011

Theo Paphitis, the former Dragons’ Den star, is running three high street retailers: stationery brand Ryman, homeware chain Robert Dyas and lingerie outlet Boux Avenue.

From a nondescript Wimbledon office, Paphitis admits business is “tough” as rival retailers struggle, but do not mention the A-word to him.

“I’m not looking at any administrations for any of my businesses, thank god,” the Cypriot-born entrepreneur tells City A.M. “All my businesses are in good health and we are not in that situation, touchwood. That said, we are working incredibly hard just to stand still and at the moment standing still seems like a victory. It’s a tough market out there.”

Why is retail struggling?

He blames successive governments for “screwing up” retail. Business rates, the national living wage, and the apprenticeship levy combined with the slump in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote have hurt retailers.

“We expected a vast reduction in our business rates bill but instead it went up. Also you don’t throw in something like a national living wage rise overnight… and the apprenticeship levy is another ill-thought strategy that is costing struggling retailers,” he says.

Retailers need to “hunker down and get through” Brexit, Paphitis says.

The retail tycoon adds: “Cameron and Osborne have screwed the retail sector, the economy and the country as a whole. They’ve left a lot of baggage for us to clean up.”

And after current chancellor Philip Hammond’s national insurance U-turn, Paphitis is no fan of this government either.

He explains: “If you’re prepared to go back on a key promise then why am I going to believe in anything you say again?”

Given he has so many views about the government, hasn’t Paphitis ever considered taking up an advisory role?

“I’ve never been asked,” he says. “Governments normally have advisers who tell them what they want to hear. I’m probably not the right person for them unless they want to hear the truth.”

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Paphitis started off his career in the City. With no degrees and dyslexia, he left school at 16 to work as a filing boy at Lloyd’s of London. A stint at Watches of Switzerland as a salesman sparked his interest in retail.

Worth over £280m today, Paphitis is most known for his eight-year stint at BBC show Dragons’ Den. He bought lingerie retailer La Senza in 1998 for “a quid and 40 Benson & Hedges” and sold it to Lion Capital for £100m. He also rescued Millwall Football Club from administration in 1997.

Survival of the fittest

In his view, retail failures are due to brands not adapting to changing times.

“There are always corrections and heritage brands need to change with the times. Consumer habits are changing so fast so unless you invest in a business and take into account the changing habits you will lose your business and customers.

“You do have to be on your toes and reinvest in your business and you have to have a vision,” he says.

Paphitis admits mulling a purchase of at least five businesses in the past 18 months but the only one he snapped up was London Graphic Centre in October last year.

Ask him about selling his existing businesses and he says “no, thank you”.

“I get approached all the time from people interested in buying our businesses. But I have no plans to sell whatsoever.

“I have some great brands that people would give their right arm for so I’m concentrating on them. But if something comes along that rocks my boat then it might get my attention.”

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