Free Record Shop, already the largest entertainment chain in the Netherlands, has taken over nine Extrazone stores in Belgium from the now defunct Sonica retail group.

These stores will be converted into Free Record Shops during the first quarter.

This move makes Free Record Shop (FRS) the market leader in Belgium, taking over from Extrazone, says FRS CEO Hans Breukhoven. He justifies this claim by stating his chain obtained a 41% music market share in Belgium in the last week of 2009, according to data by research bureau GfK.

"Initially we were bidding for all 55 stores in Belgium that were run by Sonica," he explains, "but we thought the price was too high. When the executor decided to sell the stores one by one, we cherry picked nine of them. These are situated mainly in Wallony, in service areas where we didn't already have a Free Record Shop."

The takeover consists only of rental contracts, not of stocks. Breukhoven tells Billboard.biz the nine stores had a combined turnover of "over €10 million" ($13.38 million) in 2009, but doesn't reveal the amount of money involved in the acquisition.

Some staff at the Extrazone stores will be offered jobs by FRS. "We'll cherry pick the best of them," says Breukhoven. "Knowing we'll need three or four persons per shop and one store being 600 square meters, we can offer nearly 50 people a job."

Apart from the physical stores, Free Record Shop also takes over the Web site www.mediadis.com, the largest online entertainment store in Belgium, from Sonica. This move makes former runner-up Free Record Shop the number one online seller of entertainment in that territory as well.

According to Breukhoven, 2009 was a difficult year for Mediadis, because the troubles in the Sonica organization resulted in low stocks. "In 2008 however the turnover was €5 million [$6.69 million] and we aim to reach those heights again in no time," he says. The site will keep operating under its own name "because of its high brand awareness and popularity," he adds.

The FRS CEO calls 2010 "the Internet year" for his company. "All of our cash flow will be invested in our Internet business," he says. "It will be spent to improvements of our sites, marketing, marketing and marketing."

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