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Debenhams' first department store was opened in 1905. However, the company dates back to 1778 and the Debenhams name first appeared London's Wigmore Street in 1813 as the partnership of Clark and Debenham. This business prospered throughout the 19th century, growing to include retail outlets all over the country as well as clothing manufacturing operations.

Debenhams was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1928, trading as an independent company and continued to expand. The Burton Group acquired Debenhams in 1985. At that time Debenhams had 65 department stores in key locations across Britain. Debenhams management reorganised the business and introduced own brand merchandise across key product areas in the late 80's and 90's. In January 1998, Debenhams demerged from the Burton Group and once again became an independently listed company on the London Stock Exchange, now known as Debenhams plc.

Debenhams currently has 90 department stores in Britain and one in the Republic of Ireland employing over 20,000 staff (60% are part time). These stores also offer direct mail order and a transactional web site. Its head offices are situated in London and Taunton. Debenhams has plans to open 15 more stores in Britain by 2003. In the global arena, through a franchise partner, Debenhams operates stores in the Middle East, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai, and plans to open more stores during the next few years.

Debenhams offers national, international and own brand goods, specialising in clothing, accessories, cosmetics and homewares. It has contracts with over 25 leading British designers including Jasper Conran, Pearce Fionda, Philip Treacy, Ozwald Boateng and Cath Kidston. It holds 20% of wedding list market and has added wedding stationery and ready-to-wear designer bridal wear. Other features include the Personal Shopper a service aimed at "helping our customers select the most appropriate merchandise for their needs. Evidence shows that customers value the Personal Shopper service and as a result they spend more" says Peter Jarvis, Chairman.

It's catalogue, "Debenhams Direct", was launched in February 2000 in association with Freemans, a subsidiary of Otto Versand GmbH. The catalogue contains over 35% more products than are available in the stores, hence aims to increase the product choice to customers. Shopping kiosks within stores are being developed where customers will be able to access the website or browse through the Home Shopping catalogue. Together with the "Special Order Service" customers are able to order any goods regardless of the store size.

Debenhams boasts one of the highest staff retention rates in the retail sector. It achieves this by its close liaison with educational establishments, on-going training and assessment programmes, bonus schemes and internal promotion.

In the last financial year total sales were up by 1.4% to 1,397.9 million (1998/9 1,378.8 million). However, there was a decrease in profit before tax, which was 129.6 million (1998/9 138.8 million), but there was an overall increase in market share (to over 13%) with 4 new stores, 11 refurbished and significant investment in the internet, home shopping catalogue and brand advertising campaign.

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