Ikea founders mull sale of Habitat furniture chain

The family of Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish billionaire founder of the Ikea discount furniture chain, is thinking about ditching the high-end Habitat furniture and design chain.

On Sunday, the group’s chief the executive confirmed the possible sale of Habitat, whose sales have been hit by the economic downturn.

Parent company ICAF Antillen, acting for the Kamprad family, has launched a “strategic review” that “may or may not lead to a sale of the company,” chief executive Mark Saunders said in a statement, confirming a London Sunday Times report.

Founded by Sir Terence Conran in 1964, Habitat employs some 1,500 people with 38 stores in Britain, 24 in France, six in Spain, five in Germany and retail partnerships in a further 14 markets.

Ingvar Kamprad, best-known as the founder of furniture giant Ikea, acquired Habitat in 1992.

The chain’s owners have hired the Lazard bank to look into “options” for its future, Saunders said.

“This is an ongoing process with a number of options currently under discussion,” he said. “No decision has been made yet.”

According to the Sunday Times, Habitat’s sales have been knocked by the global downturn, but it is also struggling to compete because of high prices, poor customer service and a badly-targeted product range.

Habitat’s British operations lost £13.4 million pounds ($21.9 million) in the year ending March 2008, the report said.

Saunders was hired in April with instructions to return Habitat to profit within three years, and recently signed up supermodel Helena Christensen as the new face of the group.

While the review is underway, he said store openings would go ahead in Britain, including in the northern city of Liverpool, and Europe.

Kamprad is now the richest man in his adoptive Switzerland with a fortune valued at some €23 billion.

Ikea has shed 5,000 jobs worldwide since the start of the economic crisis.

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