One of the country's oldest shoe shops was yesterday weighing up interest from a string of potential buyers after deciding against a stock market flotation.
Stead & Simpson, which has more than 400 outlets in the UK, said competition among private equity firms to buy the business had been strong after it reported "above average" sales growth.
The Leicester-based firm had considered a market listing when it began a strategic review in March, but decided a sale was the best option.
As well as trading under the Stead & Simpson brand, the company also includes budget shoe retailer Shoe Express, Peter Briggs and Lilley & Skinner.
Its stores stock their own label footwear, along with brands such as Hush Puppies, Dr Martens, Clarks, Ecco and Wrangler footwear.
Stead & Simpson said same-store sales were one per cent higher in the first six months of the year - which it believed was "significantly" above the market average.
Like-for-like sales rose by seven per cent during June and six per cent in July. It said the increase followed its decision not to discount prices as early in the summer as some of its rivals.
The firm said: "Against a background of such positive performance in a difficult retail environment, competition to buy the business has remained strong and management have selected a number of bidders to go through to the next stage."
It expected to receive final bids towards the end of August. Stead & Simpson is 39 per cent owned by stock market-listed Development Securities, which bought into the business in the 1980s.
Another 30 per cent is held by its chairman John Shannon, who plans to sell up and leave, with the remainder shared by chief executive David Lockyer and finance director Peter Foot.
Mr Lockyer and Mr Foot will stay with the business, holding on to a "significant" stake.
Stead & Simpson started life as a footwear manufacturer, but stopped this in the 1960s to concentrate on the retail side of the business. By the mid-1970s it had around 300 stores.
An acquisitions spree in the late 1990s saw it add chains such as Shoe Express and Peter Briggs to its portfolio.
Stead & Simpson has grown consistently since the management team led by Mr Shannon took over in 1997.
The company saw pretax profits rise to £8.9 million in its last financial year, up from £4.6 million previously, while turnover rose to £140.3 million from £130.1 million.