Shop Direct Group - or the The Very Group as it will become during 2019 - is the UK leader in what used to be called "home shopping", offering affordable private label fashion as well as a vast collection of third-party brands. Though it's best known for apparel, the group also sells a wide range of electrical goods, furniture and special seasonal items, as well as financial services. It has successfully transformed itself from an old-style catalogue mail order business into the country's second largest pureplay digital retailer after Amazon, delivering in excess of 49m items a year to 3.9m active customers. The original core of the business was Littlewoods Home Shopping, but this was later supplemented by several key acquisitions, including the former GUS mail order portfolio, and later the online operations of Woolworths in the UK. The group also launched two online-only brands. Very.co.uk, introduced in 2009, was originally aimed at younger and more style-conscious buyers, while Isme, launched two years later, was aimed at fashion-conscious women in their 40s and 50s. Very quickly became the group's single biggest business. In 2015, all other banners were either closed or merged into Very and Littlewoods, and the group ceased production of all remaining catalogues to focus on digital-only sales. Revenues for the year to 2017 reached a new high of over £1.9bn. Very alone accounted for almost £1.3bn in sales and interest on customer loans. Alex Baldock is CEO, but the business is privately owned by the secretive investors Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, and chaired by Sir David's son Aidan Barclay. Littlewoods was originally launched in 1932 as a catalogue shopping sideline to the sports betting (or "pools") business owned by the Moores family of Liverpool. High street stores followed a few years later. However, sales declined sharply after the 1980s as a result of competition from the likes of Next, and Littlewoods was sold in 2002 to the Barclay brothers, who had made their original fortune by investing in London property in the 1970s. They sold the retail estate (to Primark), and acquired the GUS home shopping division a year later. Their other major interests include London's Ritz Hotel and the Telegraph Media Group.
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Capsule checked 8th December 2017
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