El Corte Inglés is one of the world’s leading department store chains, with over 70 years experience, stores in Spain and Portugal and a growing number of specialist stores within the group. A pioneer of Spanish distribution, El Corte Inglés is a diverse and customer-focused chain and its success is increasing every year with new business formats.
The early years
El Corte Inglés takes its name from a small tailor’s shop founded in 1890. In 1935, Ramón Areces Rodríguez bought the tailor’s shop and this was the start of his entrepreneurial adventure. In 1939, he also acquired a property in Madrid at Calle Preciados 3 and converted the ground and first floors and part of the second floor into sales areas. In June 1940, when the business had seven employees, he set up the El Corte Inglés company, with the help of his uncle César Rodríguez as shareholder and first chairman of the company.
Between 1945 and 1946, the first comprehensive refurbishment of the premises was undertaken bringing the total sales area up to 2,000 square metres, spread over five floors. This was the beginning of the definitive sales structure of a typical department store.
The 1960s were key years for the expansion of El Corte Inglés as a department store, with new centres opening in Barcelona, Seville and Bilbao, alongside more stores in Madrid, with a growing range of products.
The new-era expansion
From the late 1960s to the mid 1990s, the group experienced major growth marked by expansion to other provincial capitals and by the diversification of its sales activity, which began to branch into other lines of the business. The 1980s were an intense period that ended with the death of Ramón Areces in 1989. Over the years, Areces had been preparing his successor, Isidoro Álvarez, who had held the position of managing director since 1966.
This period of sustained growth culminated in 1995 with the achievement of a major milestone: the acquisition of the properties of the Galerías Preciados retail chain and the incorporation of its 5,200 employees. Major investments adapted the acquired assets to the commercial policy and business culture of the group. The final operation was executed at the end of that year.
The new millennium
In June 2001, the company Hipercor, part of the El Corte Inglés group, acquired five hypermarkets from Carrefour, together with the corresponding shopping centres.
That same year also saw other important milestones for the group. On 23 November, El Corte Inglés opened its first department store outside Spain, in Lisbon, Portugal.
Just a few days later, in December 2001, El Corte Inglés acquired Marks & Spencer’s nine Spanish stores following the decision of the UK group to withdraw from Spain. Later that year, each of these outlets reopened as El Corte Inglés stores, in Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Seville and Valencia.
In December 2004, El Corte Inglés extended its offering in Asturias with the reopening of the seven Champion supermarkets acquired from Carrefour under the trade name Supercor. Another milestone in the group’s history was the acquisition of Asón Inmobiliaria in December 2006. Asón Inmobiliaria owned, among other assets, the land on which Madrid’s Windsor building, destroyed by fire almost two years previously, had stood. It also acquired 20% of the Torre Picasso building in Madrid. A few months later, in July 2007, the company sold its stake in the latter building to FCC, while at the same time moving forward with plans to convert the Windsor site into a building that would house one of Europe’s biggest and most modern shopping centres.
The shopping area of this new building, which is attached to the El Corte Inglés Castellana store, opened in late 2010. In 2011, Castellana received new spaces and services such as Gourmet Experience, Calles del Lujo, selling luxury articles, and Espacio de Salud y Belleza, dedicated to beauty and health. A few weeks later, the El Corte Inglés flagship store presented Espacio de las Artes, its first contemporary art gallery, in the Castellana 85 building.