After four years of inactivity, Bangkok-based Robinson department store group will expand next year following the completion of $463m (Baht 19bn) in debt restructuring, the Bangkok Post reported today.

The investment, expected to involve several hundred million baht, will be the largest since the mid-1997 economic crisis, which hit Thailand's third-largest department store chain badly. The expansion will primarily involve adding about 8,000 sq ms of retail space at four stores - Ratchadaphisek, Si Racha, Udon Thani and Rangsit.Renovations, but the company's Srinakarin and Fashion Island stores will also be given a new image.

The facelift at the Srinakarin branch, the prototype store for the new image, is scheduled to be completed by the middle of next year. The new look, to be created by Robinson's parent firm, Central Retail Corp (CRC), is designed to attract middle-income consumers earning between 10,000 and 30,000 baht per month.

"After the renovation, our image will be clearly middle-class and will not confuse shoppers," said Vajariya Anamwathana, assistant vice-president for marketing at Robinson. The number of house brands will be halved with the introduction of outside brands in affordable price ranges, she said.

Ms Vajariya said retail sales in the current festive season were likely to be lower than last year because of the weaker baht, high oil prices and lower consumer confidence.

However, Robinson expects its overall revenue for the year to grow by 12 per cent over last year to Baht 8bn ($186m).