He is a self-made billionaire, but now, Chris Dawson is understood to be considering floating his retail chain The Range on the London stock market.
The move would mean a huge payday for the Plymouth entrepreneur, whose success can be traced back to his early days as an ice cream seller.
According to a Sky News report he has opened talks with investment banks about working on the listing.
Sources report that The Range could be valued at nearly £2bn, and that Mr Dawson is targeting a stock market debut for the chain during the second half of 2018, as the Plymouth Herald reports.
Chris Dawson, The Range
There are currently The Range stores in Plymouth, Plymstock, Torquay, Exmouth and Exeter in Devon.
If he does take the company public, its arrival on the London Stock Exchange will carry the Devon entrepreneur into the London spotlight.
It is expected to target a valuation multiple similar to that of B&M Retail, another listed chain, which would make it worth around £1.7bn.
Last year’s Sunday Times Rich list valued Mr Dawson and his wife Sarah’s fortune at £1.9bn, putting them joint 67th in the rankings.
It’s a far cry from Mr Dawson’s humble beginnings selling ice cream – but testament to his drive and sharp business acumen.
Here is an overview of his journey to becoming a billionaire.
Ice cream and jumble sales
It’s been a startling success for the self-made man who started out in business as a boy of seven selling ice cream outside the King’s Arms, in Oreston.
When he was in junior school he was also quick to spot an opportunity to trade with his fellow pupils – selling items given to him from jumbles sales.
“I went to Hooe church jumble sale, but I didn’t have any money so I asked them if I could have what’s left,” he told the BBC in 2014.
“They let me have all the stuff and I went and cleaned the plimsolls and painted them and sold them outside the school gates.
“I was flogging them merrily, until I got caught and got caned.
“Where the average person would think it was a risk, I saw it as an opportunity.
“But when I got home my mum marched me down the jumble sale and made me give every penny back.
“She said you should not be taking money off the church. But my brain knew even then that I had to have a low cost base.
“And I needed to change the offer – I had to make the plimsolls nice and shiny – and get in front of an audience where I stood out.”
Scrap metal trader
Mr Dawson spotted another untapped market in his school career – scrap metal.
He would collect discarded materials from school metal classes – and then sell them to a scrap dealer.
His teacher reportedly told him he would either end up in prison or very rich – fortunately for him it turned out to be the latter.
After he left school at the age of 15, without any qualifications, he became a scrap metal dealer.
Plymouth billionaire Chris Dawson admits he ‘can’t read or write’
He admits that even now he is virtually illiterate and can’t read the sat nav on his Rolls Royce.
“Even now I’ll stop the Roller and pick up a battery from the side of the road. I still love it,” he said.
Street and market trading
After leaving school with no qualifications Mr Dawson became a market trader being dubbed Plymouth’s “deluxe Del Boy” – and quickly started to build a reputation as a businessman with a promising future.
Prior to that he would spend days street trading – from selling lotion on beaches to perfurme and watches in pubs in clubs. Business began to boom.
“We were on roll, my friend Steve and I were taking very big money,” he said his his BBC interview.
The cash and carry boom
In the early 1980s he opened two cash-and-carry stores, in Exeter and Newton Abbot, which he sold at the end of the decade during the property boom and briefly returned to the market.
The shops lacked the feel of the market – and his vision for a chain of shops with a ‘tidied up’ marketplace inside was born.
The Range store on Billacombe Road – The first store opened by Chris Dawson
In 1989, Mr Dawson founded CDS (Superstores International) Ltd and opened up at Sugar Mill in Plymouth, trading under the brand The Range.
He was convinced he could do the discount store model better than rivals like the doomed Woolworths and the nearby Trago superstores.
Sugar Mill boomed, and it soon led to more stores. Today his other businesses include property, shop-fitting, manufacturing and a design operation.
In 2009, Mr Dawson purchased stock worth £98m from MFI and bankrupt electrical retailer Empire Direct.
He also bought assets and stock from the collapse of Focus DIY and TJ Hughes and took over some of the vacant stores.
The MFI stock was worth £68m but Mr Dawson bought it from administrators for less than £3m.
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The Range dominates discount
The store’s success all started with that one outlet in Billacombe Road, in 1989.
Twenty four years later, Mr Dawson bought the huge Sugar Mill Retail Park, including his first shop, out of administration for a knock-down price.
By then, his chain, renamed The Range after initially being known as CDS, was a huge national player, and Mr Dawson was one of Britain’s richest men.
The Range now has well over 100 stores, the company still has that inaugural store, but has become a significant business success story, having raced up the list of Britain’s leading mid-market private firms with profits hitting £46million.
It means Plymouth joins Bristol and Southampton as the only cities with two The Range outlets. The largest store is in Kidderminster – an impressive 110,252sq ft.
But each branch is part of an operation which sells more than 65,000 goods across 16 departments, including DIY, furniture and arts and crafts.
And The Range prides itself on being able to retail anything from quirky light bulbs to chandeliers.
It stocks household-name brands such as Dulux and Kilner, and also has its own brands, such as the garden electrical brand RYNO.
The super HQ
Proposals for a huge new Range in Plymouth that would serve as the retail giant’s ‘flagship store’ were waved through by city planning chiefs in the autumn of last year.
Chris Dawson’s The Range chain is planning a new HQ and superstore on land next to Future Inns at Derriford
The council’s planning committee agreed the plans would bring big benefits, praising Mr Dawson – for having faith in the city’s economic future.
The Seaton Hill project will see a flagship store, decked out in the Range’s trademark orange colours, and offices home to head office staff rolled out across the business hub – which hopes to fuel further regeneration around Derriford.
Five-hundred jobs are to be created; 400 head office-based staff and 100 for the superstore, which will also boast a cafe.
A 348-space car park and room for 104 bicycles are also included in the mega deal.
Former council leader, Vivien Pengelly said: “I welcome the fact there is an applicant out there that wants to put a flagship store in Plymouth with a head office.
“This will mean jobs and employment and it’s a really good message that Plymouth is looking ahead. It’s great for Plymouth, really good news.”
A multi-billion pound deal?
Sources close to Mr Dawson said he likes to describe The Range as “the working man’s John Lewis”, and he believes the business has very strong growth prospects.
The news of the chain possible floating on the stock market comes at a time when other large retailers and businesses are facing a tough time on the high street.
Spiralling rent costs, the introduction of the National Living Wage, the Apprenticeship Levy and inflation have left businesses such as House of Fraser , Toys R Us and New Look? looking long and hard at their finances and premises.
But The Range’s performance appears to be going from strength to strength, with sales rising year-on-year and Mr Dawson able to award himself a £100m dividend from the company in 2017.
Source: Devon live