United Drapery Stores

United Drapery Stores

United Drapery Stores, or UDS, was a British retail group that dominated the British high street from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The group was founded in 1927 and from the outset sought to grow through the takeover of other companies. The company started with five department stores in the Leeds area, but by 1931 this had grown to 112 retail outlets. In 1932 it acquired the business of Stewart's Clothiers Ltd, bringing its number of outlets to 232. A further thirty-seven shops were added to the business in 1950 when it took over the Scottish clothes chain Claude Alexander. In 1953 it saw its biggest expansion through the acquisition of Prices Tailors Limited, another Leeds clothing firm. Prices had been founded in 1907 by Henry Price, and traded under the Fifty Shilling Tailors brand, with 399 stores across the country. With the takeover by UDS, the chain was renamed John Collier.

In 1954 UDS merged with Alexandra Limited, a Leeds textile manufacturer owned by Jack and Bernard Lyons. [See Obituary: Jack Lyons, in "The Independent" (London newspaper), 20 February 2008.] Jack Lyons took control of the company. They continued the policy of expansion through acquisitions, with the twenty-seven shops of Brooks Brothers joining the group in 1963, and the forty-five stores of the Peter Pell clothing chain being taken over in 1964. It was reported that in 1966 alone UDS sold over 1,119,000 men's suits in Britain, making it one of the biggest clothing retailers in Britain at that time, rivalled only by the likes of Burton's Menswear, Marks and Spencers, Littlewoods and Debenhams.

The most notable takeover by the UDS group was in 1958 when the Lyons brothers negotiated a reverse takeover of the Allders department stores group. Allders had been a single department store based in Croydon, but it had gradually taken over a number of other family-run department stores, almost all of which were rebranded Allders during the 1970s.

However, for the UDS group as a whole the main rival was the Burton Group, who today are known as the Arcadia Group, and there were several attempts by UDS to take over Burton's, most notably in 1967. This attempt was blocked by the British Government's Monopolies and Mergers Commission as being against the public interest. [See http://www.competition-commission.org.uk/rep_pub/reports/1960_1969/fulltext/041c03.pdf]

In 1983 the Lyons family sold its controlling share of UDS to Hanson plc and the company was partly broken up. Ironically, many of the stores that formed the core of UDS, including the once ubiquitous Richard Shops chain of women clothes retailers, ended up eventually being sold to Burton's parent company, Arcadia.


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