The proprietors of The Daily Telegraph have begun exploring plans for a £3bn-plus flotation of Very Group, their booming online retail operation.
Sky News has learnt that the Barclay family is at the early stages of examining whether to take Very to the public markets in order to capitalise on exploding investor interest in digitally led retailers.
Insiders said that the family had started evaluating such a move prior to the unexpected death this week of Sir David Barclay, who with his twin brother Sir Frederick had built one of Britain’s biggest private business empires.
A decision about an initial public offering (IPO) of Very Group is not thought to be imminent, but sources close to the family acknowledged that it was under more serious contemplation than at any previous point.
It was unclear on Friday evening whether Very’s board had formally appointed bankers to help advise on a potential listing plan, although one source said that UBS – which has advised the company in the past – was likely to be involved.
If the owners did decide to pursue a public listing, it would expose a Barclay-owned business to the glare of public equity markets for the first time, marking a significant departure for a family which has – despite the profile of the assets it owns – always sought to protect its privacy.
In addition to the Telegraph titles, the Barclays also own the logistics business Yodel.
Last year, the family sold London’s Ritz hotel following a bitter dispute between the twins over its valuation.
A legal battle involving allegations of corporate espionage may yet continue despite Sir David’s death.
Last year’s Sunday Times Rich List estimated that the brothers had amassed a combined fortune of about £7bn.
A flotation of Very Group would be a logical step for a business which, like many online retailers, has been among the big beneficiaries of the coronavirus pandemic.
While high street chains have invariably been struggling to stay afloat, Very reported this week what it described as a record-breaking Christmas and Black Friday trading performance.
The company is run by Henry Birch, a former boss of the casino operator Rank Group, and chaired by Aidan, one of Sir David’s sons.
In a trading update published this week, Mr Birch said the Christmas trading period had “started early at Very and our committed team worked tirelessly to deliver for our customers”.
“Because we sell everything our customers could possibly want except food, are online only and offer a range of payment options, we were perfectly placed to help a record number of people make the most of the festive period.”
The company said it had seen more than 500,000 new customers use the Very Group platform, with 139m website visits – a year-on-year rise of nearly 50%.
“Our record-breaking performance was supported by our new fulfilment centre, which processed 3.9m orders during peak; an incredible achievement for a facility that only launched in March this year, when the first national lockdown was announced,” Mr Birch added.
“While the economic picture remains unpredictable, we have strong momentum as we begin the year.”
Very Group last explored the possibility of bringing in external investors in 2017, when it held talks with a number of large private equity firms.
At the time, it sought a roughly-£3bn valuation for the business, which at the time was called Shop Direct, but ultimately decided not to pursue a sale.
A Very Group spokesman declined to comment on Friday.