Retail chain takes over Morrisons

    Home, garden and leisure giant moving into empty town centre store

    The Range Tunbridge Wells
    How the new store might look

    Another ‘mid-price’ retailer will be coming to Tunbridge Wells with the news that The Range is due to move into the former Morrisons site.

    Council officers at the Town Hall were set to approve the transfer of the current lease to the homeware store late yesterday (Tuesday).

    The Range was founded in 1980 by retail tycoon Chris Dawson, a former street vendor, and turned into a chain with more than 100 stores offering 65,000 home, leisure and garden products.

    Any decision on whether the lease will be transferred will also have to be approved by site owners Canada Life Investments, an asset management subsidiary of the insurance giant. However, while the Times understands this has yet to be granted, it’s clear that the company are ‘keen’ on the idea.

    Jonathan MacDonald, Director of Planning & Development at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, said yesterday in response to questions from the Times: “We received on Friday a request for approval to enable an assignment of the Morrisons’ lease.

    “My understanding from my discussion with Canada Life is that they are keen but have yet to grant their own formal approval. The proposed assignment is to homeware store The Range.”

    News that the Vale Road site is likely to avoid reverting to a disused ‘eyesore’ will come as a relief to residents who can remember when it was left derelict for six years after Morrisons first pulled out in 2006 before later returning. They also closed the store for a second time on April 2 this year. The move coincides with the sale of the old cinema site 200 yards away, which itself had been allowed to fester for 15 years, but could see development begin next year.

    Reflecting the mood among councillors, Cllr Jane March, portfolio holder for Economic Development, said: “I was very pleased to be informed that the former Morrisons store will not be empty for too much longer.

    “I am encouraged that businesses continue to see Tunbridge Wells as a place where they should be investing. It is good for the local economy and shows confidence in the town and the borough.”

    WHAT IS THE RANGE?

    Founded in 1980 by Chris Dawson in Plymouth, The Range is a British home, garden and leisure chain which competes in the ‘mid-price’ market and is set to take over the empty Morrisons store.

    The chain operates over 100 stores nationwide and employs around 3,000 staff, with the closest shops prior to the opening in Tunbridge Wells located in Maidstone and Eastbourne.

    Originally named CDS Superstores, the company is now one of the UK’s largest mid-sized private firms, recording profits of £56.9million last year.

    The retailer is recognised for its unique variety with more than 65,000 products across 16 departments, including DIY, homeware, furniture, lighting, arts & crafts and garden.

    WHO IS OWNER CHRIS DAWSON?

    Chris Dawson is the epitome of a self-made billionaire.

    Born in 1952, he’s the son of a Royal Navy sailor turned market trader. Mr Dawson’s first experience of business was at the age of seven when he sold ice creams outside the Kings Arms pub in the Plymouth.

    He left school at 15 with few qualifications, due to his irregular attendance and battle with dyslexia, and joined the family business selling seafood from the back of a van with his father.

    Mr Dawson then moved into business for himself by selling perfume and jewellery from a suitcase. He did well.

    By the early 1980’s he had opened two cash-and-carry stores in Exeter and Newton Abbot, before selling them at the high end of the property boom towards the end of the decade.

    In 1989, Mr Dawson founded CDS (Superstores International) Ltd, and has successfully overseen its transformation into The Range.

    Throughout this period, the entrepreneur has amassed considerable wealth, becoming the 77th richest person in Britain with an estimated fortune of £1.65billion as of last year.