Mothercare has revealed plans to sell its Early Learning Centre business to the owner of toy chain The Entertainer for up to £13.5 million as it seeks to slash its debt pile.

The retailer said it had agreed the deal with TEAL Brands, which is the holding company of The Entertainer, but will retain around £6m of Early Learning Centre stock to offload.

The move will help it pay down around £17.5m of debt over the next year.

Mothercare said its recovery plan was set to see 57 stores shut by the end of March to cut its estate to 80, which it said was ahead of schedule.

Mark Newton-Jones, chief executive of Mothercare, said: "We have made significant progress in recent months as we continue our strategic transformation to deliver a sustainable and profitable future for Mothercare."

READ MORE: Mothercare sales drop amid firm transformation

He added: "This disposal of Early Learning Centre provides a further step towards eliminating our bank debt, and our new concession arrangements with The Entertainer will bring our customers an even stronger Toys offer, both in stores and online."

The Entertainer group, a family-owned high street toy retailer, confirmed the acquisition of the early learning centre (ELC) from Mothercare.   

It said ELC operates within 80 Mothercare stores in the UK, 400 stores internationally via franchise partners and online through its website.

The acquisition also includes its portfolio of iconic British toy brands such as Happyland.

It follows a year of growth for The Entertainer, which saw 16 new stores open in the UK, five more internationally and the acquisition of Spanish toy retailer, Poly, adding a further 57 stores to its portfolio.

The addition of ELC sees the business continue its ambitious growth agenda into 2019.  

Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of The Entertainer, said: "We are delighted to add ELC to The Entertainer family.

"It comes with a rich history as a much-loved British brand, supporting parents and grandparents with their children’s early years’ learning, development and play.

"We will look to bring new life to the product offering whilst maintaining the high level of quality ELC is renowned for.

"By combining our experience with that of ELC’s passionate and capable partners around the world we look forward to re-invigorating the brand for generations to come.”

HeraldScotland: Pizza chain Domino's to open in Loudwater

Domino's Pizza has posted falling annual profits and admitted store openings will be hit this year amid an escalating row with its franchisees.

The pizza delivery company said that, while its pipeline of new stores is set to hold firm in 2019, the actual number of openings is likely to be lower given "ongoing franchisee discussions".

The news came as it posted a 22 per cent plunge in annual pre-tax profits to £61.9 million after suffering "growing pains" in its international business.

The group said on an underlying basis pre-tax profits dropped 1.1% to £93.4m for the year to December 30.

Domino's is working to resolve a dispute with disgruntled store operators, who have set up a group called Domino's Franchise Association UK & Ireland, demanding more support from the company in the face of rising costs.

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Chairman David Brandon said the company was "determined to improve operational and financial performance in our international businesses, and ensure a smoother relationship with some of our franchisees".

HeraldScotland: French Connection

French Connection returned to a modest annual profit in 2018, but sales continued to fall due to "difficult" trading conditions.

The retailer made an underlying operating profit of just £100,000 compared with a £2.1 million loss a year earlier.

But like-for-like sales fell 6.8 per cent with weaker sales both on online and in store, while group revenue rose 0.2% to £135.3m.

Retail sales declined by 11% to £58.4m but wholesale revenue increased by 10% to £76.9m.

As the retailer battles higher rent costs and changing shopping habits, French Connection has closed a number of stores and is looking to close further loss-making outlets this year.

READ MORE: Shares dive in troubled Kier after firm forced to revise debt position

French Connection said talks are also "ongoing" with a number of interested parties over the potential sale of the business.

Founder and chief executive Stephen Marks owns 42% of the retailer, while Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley holds a 27% stake.