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Mukesh Ambani is giving a fresh lifeline to a struggling Hamleys, a 261-year-old UK toy-store chain, which he had bought in 2019 to strengthen his retail footprint as part of the ongoing transformation of his oil-and-chemicals conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited into a technology behemoth.

Hamleys, hich was founded by William Hamley in 1760, hasn’t made a profit for several years.

Ownership of the London-based chain has changed at least three times in the past decade alone

Hamleys’ now plans to increase its outlets in India to more than 500 in three years despite the pandemic, Ambani’s Reliance Brands Ltd CEO Darshan Mehta said.

Hamleys wants to tap the 27 per cent of under-14 children out of 1.4 billion people, who are inadequately served in the toys section.

“The country accounts for just 1% of the $90 billion global toy industry, meaning the potential for growth is high,” Mehta said.

“There is a lot of headroom and India is no way near saturation,” Mehta said. “We are now mulling how we can roll out stores in newer geographies and new formats,” he said.

Mehta said the Hamleys is an elastic brand as its prices appeal to the modest and super-rich buyers.

The firm aims to capitalise on limited entertainment options available to the customers by giving them a carnival-like experience, where the Hamleys allow children to race toy cars, enjoy model train sets and play various games.

Mehta expects the toy industry to remain “recession proof” despite the pandemic hitting parts of India’s economy. This is because many families choose children’s happiness over anything else.

Mehta expects 30 percent of Hamleys’ sales coming from online purchases in five years, an increase of 10 per cent from the current sales status.

Direct selling over the phone or via WhatsApp would account for 20 per cent in the same period, he said.

Two years ago, Ambani had bought Hamleys for about $89 million in cash.

Hamleys is looking at outlets in the US this year or next, depending on travel restrictions, as well as in tourist hot spots in European countries, including France and Italy, Mehta said.

The firm is also adding stores from Europe, South Africa and China, he said..

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