Figures show 190,000 retail roles have been axed since first lockdown
Covid jobs bloodbath: Figures show 190,000 retail roles have been axed on High Street since start of first lockdown with 15,000 stores forced to close
- Total of 188,685 retail jobs vanished between March 23 2020 and March 31 2021
- Figures come less than two weeks before non-essential shops reopen doors
- Shoppers will find high streets and town centres have been hit hard by pandemic
Almost 190,000 jobs have been lost and more than 15,000 stores were forced to close in the retail bloodbath since the first national lockdown a year ago, according to new figures.
The Centre for Retail Research has revealed that 188,685 retail jobs in the UK vanished between the start of the first lockdown on March 23 2020 and March 31 this year in exclusive data for the PA news agency.
The figures come less than two weeks before non-essential shops reopen their doors to customers in England after the lengthy third lockdown.
However, shoppers will find high streets and town centres have been hit hard by the pandemic, with thousands of stores shutting their doors for good.
The Centre for Retail Research has revealed that 188,685 retail jobs in the UK have vanished between the start of the first lockdown on March 23 2020 and March 31 this year (Peacocks store closing down)
The figures revealed that 83,725 jobs lost in the period were due to administrations, including major collapses by Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.
Meanwhile, around 11,986 jobs were cut during Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) restructuring processes.
Another 92,974 jobs were axed through rationalisation programmes, which included supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Asda cutting thousands of roles.
The devastating impact of the pandemic resulted in 15,153 store closures in shopping destinations across the UK, the figures also revealed.
According to real estate adviser Altus Group, up to 401,690 shops are currently shuttered around the country and could reopen in the next stage of the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown.
Retail bosses have raised concerns that the high street will still be very challenging for retailers despite the easing of restrictions, as business rates payments return for many.
The figures revealed that 83,725 jobs lost in the period were due to administrations, including major collapses by Debenhams (pictured) and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group
It comes less than two weeks before non-essential shops reopen their doors to customers in England after the lengthy third lockdown (Topshop store, part of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, being boarded up)
Robert Hayton, UK president of property tax at Altus, warned that the current business rates regime could bring further devastation.
He said: ‘Come July 1, large retailers in England will effectively be returned to full business rates liabilities, calculated by reference to rents being paid six years ago, bearing no resemblance to the here and now, with the fundamental right of appeal to seek valuation adjustments being retrospectively removed.’
A Government spokeswoman said: ‘We have continued to support the retail sector throughout the pandemic, including our new £5billion Restart Grant scheme, extending the furlough scheme and the VAT cut, providing 750,000 businesses in retail and other sectors with business rates relief and a £350billion package to support jobs and livelihoods.
‘As we build back better from coronavirus we want to see our highstreets thrive.
Shoppers will find high streets and town centres have been hit hard by the pandemic with thousands of stores shutting their doors for good (Bonmarche store closing down)
‘We have put in place an accelerated £1 billion Future High Streets Fund, a £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund and are working with local leaders through the High Street Taskforce, all to support town centres, high street regeneration and drive growth across the UK.’
Meanwhile, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said high streets will ‘absolutely’ feature shops in future, but said the Government needs to act to bring down the burden of business rates.
She was asked about the reality of both chains and independent shops disappearing from high streets, and told BBC Breakfast: ‘That is a real thing and as I said that was a real thing that was happening before March 2020.
‘And you know there are huge numbers of reasons behind that and one is this sort of shift to online which you were mentioning, and that is where there will be fewer shops in the future, but there absolutely will remain shops in high streets.
‘But what we need to align behind is real reimagined town centres and high streets that include retail but that go beyond retail.’
Ms Dickinson said retail needs to be economic for people to operate, adding: ‘That’s where Government has a really vital role.
‘People in retail, and in hospitality, anybody who operates commercial premises, always talks about business rates.
‘So these are the taxes that are paid on shops, on restaurants, on coffee shops, and they have just become completely out of line with the economic reality of operating, and so the Government needs to act there to bring that burden down, and that will facilitate much more investment that we need to see to maintain local jobs in local communities and stop those boarded-up shops and restaurants up and down the country.’
Which stores have gone bust during the pandemic? Debenhams, Peacocks and D W Sports among the big beasts to go under amid the coronavirus crisis
Bonmarché, the value-oriented clothing retailer, went into administration for the second time in a year on December 2, 2020.
There are 226 stores and more than 1200 employees. It is owned as a separate business by Philip Day, whose EWM is also in crisis (see below).
Philip Day put this company into administration a few months ago, and reaquired it via a pre-pack. It is thought unlikely that he will do this again a second time.
Age UK, the charity focused on supporting the elderly, closed 133 of its 392 charity outlets in 2020 and made 400 people redundant. During the first lockdown approximately 70 per cent of its staff were on furlough.
Debenhams, the oldest retail chain in the UK, announced on December 1, 2020 that it had no alternative except to go into liquidation.
BooHoo is to acquire the Debenhams’ website, brands and goodwill, but close the Debenhams’ stores, came on 25 January 2021.
It marks the end of a well-known retailer, whose problems stemmed from the manner in which the company was managed or exploited in the last 20 years.
In the past 35 years it has had a variety of owners none of which was fundamentally committed to the future of Debenhams Group or was able to introduce a coherent long-term strategy.
Arcadia, the fashion giant owned by Philip Green’s wife in Monaco, went into administration on the last day of November 2020. It consists of the former Burton Group, with major subsidiaries Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons, Miss Selfridge, Wallis and Evans.
These are all well-known brands. The administrators are allowing the stores and the website to continue to trade while new purchasers for the business or businesses are found. There are around 440 stores and 12,000+ staff.
The heyday of Philip Green’s Arcadia was probably 2004-2007, but it failed to invest sufficiently in shops, IT or modern designs. Its dinner has been eated by upstarts like Primark, BooHoo, Zara, Next and even by grocery clothing lines.
For some years, the company has lacked a clear sense of direction and suffered from low investment and an unwillingness to develop its online sales. It has cut its store numbers by more than half since 2012. Comparatively staid business like John Lewis and Next have heavily invested in their online operations and now produce half their sales online.
ASOS, the UK online fashion retailer, has acquired from the shell of Arcadia the brands and websites of Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and the athleisure HIIT brands. The purchase excludes the retail stores owned by Arcadia, but there may be further news of these later.
The Irish arm of Arcadia comprising TopShop, Dotty P, Burton, Miss Selfridge etc have now closed and all 490 staff are being made redundant. The administrators have sold to online-retailer BooHoo, the online business and original Burton brands, Burtons, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis. Meanwhile, news from Deloitte is that Arcadia owed creditors as follows: HMRC £44.2m, suppliers £163m, landlords £35.5m and giftcard holders £5.6m. As secured creditors, the Green’s family loan of £50m takes precedence over the unsecured creditors. The bill for taxpayers will be around £250m+, consisting of the redundancy pay owing to sacked staff and supporting the pension scheme.
Peacocks and Jaeger, both clothing businesses owned by EWM, were put into administration in mid-November after negotiations with possible suitors came to nothing.
Discussions on behalf of both companies continue. Jaeger’s business is more formal: it has around 76 stores and concessions employing 347 staff. Peacocks approach is more at the value end of the market: it has 423 stores and more than 4,200 staff. Both companies have gone through administration before.
Both suffer from the decline in spending on clothing, the switch to online purchases by shoppers, the two lockdowns and threatened additional lockdowns in 2021, which make the future of fashion chains hard to gauge.
Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Ponden Mill, both parts of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM Group), went into administration in November.
But Pureplay Retail Limited, a company backed by ‘international investors’, has since taken over the EWM Group along with Bonmarché which owed £190m to creditors.
Pureplay has taken over 50 Bonmarché stores (1,000 staff) and 246 EWM and Ponden Home sites (1,452 staff). Bonmarché originally had 225 stores when it went into administration. Around 85 EWM and 34 Ponden Home stores will be closed and their 485 staff will lose their jobs.
This is in addition to the 64 closures and 860 staff that lost their jobs when EWM originally went into administration.
It seems that Philip Day, the founder of the EWM Group, may have lent investors some of the money required to buy out his operations, but retains fixed and floating charges as a secured creditor over the business along with Pureplay Retail Limited. Under the new agreement, Philip Day seems to have retained ownership of the various brands that are franchised to Pureplay Retail.
J Crew, American ‘preppy’ clothing retailer, is to close all six of its UK stores making their staff redundant. Its parent company has recently emerged from administration and seems to have decided to liquidate its UK subsidiary.
Celine Group Holdings, the parent company of Debenhams, has called in FRP Advisory to prepare for its own administration.
This is understood to have been done to prevent any creditor taking action against them in the period when Debs is up for sale and trying to find a new owner.
It is said that interest is overdue on £200m of loans made to Celine: administration would mean there would be no need to pay it. Any administration of Celine would not affect Debenhams store operation per se.
M&Co, the Scots-based value clothing retailer previously called Mackays, has gone into administrators and been bought by its previous owners as part of a pre-pack to save the business. There are 262 stores and 2,700 employees.
The covid-19 lockdown cost the firm more than £50m: in its last financial year profits fell by 40 per cent to £3.6m. Forty-seven stores are to close (380 redundancies) as part of its recovery plan.
D W Sports, a sportswear and gym retailer owned by Dave Whelan, went into administration in the first days of August.
The company’s outlets – as non-essential retailers – have been closed since lockdown started: its 73 gyms were about to re-open until the change in government policy that postponed the resumption of trading by gymnasia, bowling alleys etc.
There are 75 DW Sports retail stores: these will all close in four weeks. The Group has a total of 1,700 employees. Twenty-five stores have closed already.
The Fitness First Group which is also owned by Dave Whelan is not to go into administration: its 43 clubs will remain trading.
Feather & Black, the award-winning bed specialist rescued in 2017 from administration, has been bought by Dreams.
None of its stores is to reopen after the easing of lockdown. It will become online only, probably with concessions in Dreams.
Outstanding orders will be honoured. The Company was rumoured last February to be up for sale, so these closures are not strictly caused by coronavirus, although being closed for three months would not have helped its chances of survival.
Grosvenor Shopping Centre in Chester went into receivership along with its car park earlier in July 2020. It was originally built in the 1960s and refurbished in the 80s. There are 101 retail units, all on one level. The Shopping centre continues trading.
Oliver Sweeney Trading, the retail arm of the prestige shoe company Oliver Sweeney Group, was placed in administration in mid-July.
All its seven stores are closed as the company sees its retail future as online only. This administration does not affect the wholesaling and online arms of the business.
Muji, the Japanese high-street homewares retailer, has applied for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. It has debts of $64m and the Covid-19 lockdowns in the UK and the U.S. have hit it hard.
It won’t be included in our UK figures, but, under U.S. law the corporation will be required to produce an exit plan to revamp the company. This may well have implications for UK stores. The stores continue to trade.
Cardinal, the Yorkshire-based firm of shopfitters (outfitting or remodelling store interiors), went into administration in mid-July.
One hundred and thirty-five staff amongst its 170 employees have already been made redundant. Their business has been hit by the pandemic.
In addition their customers (i.e. the retailers) were unable to make firm commitments about work they needed in 2020, H2, into 2021.
The impact of Covid-19 upon retailers has meant that most companies are now unsure about the number, type and location of stores that they are going to need in 2021-2025. The collapse of work for Cardinal is a symptom of the bloodbath on the high street.
Soletrader, a footwear retailer established in 1962, went into a creditors’ voluntary liquidation in mid-July 2020. Its assets including stock and brand names Sole and Soletrader were purchased by its owner, the Twinmar Group, and are now invested in a new subsidiary, Twinmar London.
Most of the company’s stores opened for trading in July, but eight shops have been closed. Soletrader’s website is a separate entity and is unaffected by the liquidation.
Peter Jones (China), a 50-year old crockery and gift business based in Wakefield, went into administration in mid-July. It had not opened after the lockdown eased. There were ten stores and 76 staff. The business is expected to be liquidated.
Norville Group, a Gloucestershire-based firm of opticians and optical suppliers to the industry, went into administration early in June after selling its nine Norville Opticians’ practices the previous week.
Since then the former Norville laboratories, which were renowned for being able to produce lens to the very highest standard, have been acquired from administration by Inspecs, the new owner of the Norville Group, and continue to trade.
Benson Beds, the beds and bedding business owned by Alteri, was put into pre-pack administration at the same time as Harveys (see below).
Alteri bought the business out immediately and put £25m into the company to invest in its development. There are 242 stores and 1,900 staff. Bensons (at present) is seen as a much better business than Harveys, most UK bedding is made in the UK, it faces less competition from overseas operators and Alteri is likely to focus on improving its operations, while keeping Harveys Furniture stable. The company continues to trade and existing orders will be fulfilled.
Harveys Furniture, the second largest furniture retailer in the UK, was put into administration by its owners, Alteri Investors on the last day of June.
There are 105 stores, which have been struggling for some years, and 1,575 staff. The company is looking to close 20 stores and make 240 staff redundant. The company continues to trade and existing orders will be satisfied.
T M Lewin, retailer of shirts and ties online and in 65 stores, went into administration on the last day of June after failing to find a buyer.
The shops have not re-opened following the relaxation of the lockdown. The business had been acquired from Bain private equity only last month (May). The new owners, SCP Private Equity, expect to close all the stores, making the company online only. Six hundred employees are likely to lose their jobs.
Bertram Books, the Norwich-based book wholesaler, went into administration towards the end of June 2020 with debts now (Aug 2020) known to be £25m.
Most of its 450 workforce has been made redundant. Bertrams was particularly important to smaller publishing companies.
Changes in the book market in the last 20 years including the growth of online sales and dramatic price cutting, highly-promoted ‘blockbusters’, the growth of Amazon and direct-to-customer applications as well as e-books adversely affected Bertram Books’ business model.
But sub-optimal decision-making by a succession of uncommitted owners have also brought it down.
The coronavirus pandemic, closing both libraries and bookshops, proved to be the final blow for Bertram Books.
Intu Properties, the major property company that owns and manages some of the largest and best UK retail malls, went into administration on 26 June 2020. Many of its retail clients are not paying their rents and INTU’s creditors are not as forebearing.
It has total debts of £4.5bn, a merger with a European property company came to nothing and it has failed to raise more capital. Its recent negotiations with other parties, where it hoped to arrange a ‘standstill agreement’ with its lenders, led to no useful outcome, so it went into administration.
Major sites include Lakeside, Glasgow’s Braehead, Manchester’s Trafford Centre, Nottingham’s Victoria Centre and Norwich’s Chapelfield. This administration will be a major blow to the UK retail sector, although, coming after many other impossible-to-believe ‘major blows’, its significance may be less apparent.
It may not be possible for the Administrators to run all the shopping centres without outside funding, although so far all sites have been kept open. It is still possible that many of their shopping centres will close unless a new potential buyer acquires some or all of them.
Go Outdoors, the outdoor sports, walking, climbing, camping, riding and exercise retailer owned by JD Sports, went into administration towards the end of June.
It was immediately bought out of administration by J D Sports for £56.5m (pre-pack administration), enabling the company to be reorganised. J D Sports has stated that it wishes needs to re-think the Go Outdoors business but does not expect large-scale redundancies and closures.
There are 2,400 employees and 67 stores. Since the firm was bought by JD Sports it has lost £291m (to August 2019) and the massive losses caused by the coronavirus lockdown have only worsened the situation. In July, the Administrators estimated that unsecured creditors would receive only 1p in the £1.
Lee Longlands, the Birmingham-based upmarket furniture retailer, went into administration towards the end of June to enable the company to restructure and improve cash flow. The company continues to trade and outstanding orders will be met.
There are six stores, mostly in the Midlands. Lee Longlands was purchased via a management buy-out in 2015. The company started in Broad Street Bham as an antiques business in 1902.
Poundstretcher Properties, a company connected to discount-chain Poundstretcher, is to be placed into administration as part of a CVA programme by 450-store group Poundstretcher to reorganise its store portfolio, cut rents and reduce other costs.
The Poundstretcher Group has argued that around 250 stores will close if the CVA is not approved by its creditors. Poundstrecher Properties holds the leases on only 23 stores and this will not affect the legal position or ownership of the group as a whole. Poundstretcher faces the same issues as the rest of the high street, compounded by the lockdown, now in its 85th day (it is really that long?).
Oak Furnitureland, the specialist furniture store that started off on eBay, has gone into administration, and was immediately bought out of administration (pre-pack) by hedge-fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management.
There are 105 showrooms and 1,491 employees. The business continues still to trade, but the new owner expects to rationalise the business, probably through the closure of some stores and reductions in staff.
Le Pain Quotidien, the French-themed retailer, bread/coffee/restaurant chain, went into pre-pack administration in mid-June. It has been bought out of administration by a new vehicle, BrunchCo21, believed to be linked to its former owner, Cobepa. Ten of its 26 outlets have been closed with the loss of around 200 jobs in stores and the closure of its head office.
The new owners expect to negotiate T&C with the landlords of the remaining 16 properties, and the results may lead of course to further closures.
Monsoon Accessorize, the womenswear and accessories chain with 181 stores, went into administration early in June. It is a private company owned by its founder, Peter Simon: it started as a market stall.
Monsoon Accessorize was immediately bought out of administration by Peter Simon. Thirty-five stores are to be closed with 545 employees being made redundant.
The business had 181 stores and 2,534 UK staff before administration. It is understood that Monsoon does not expect that every landlord will agree to the new conditions, but hopes to save around 100 stores and 2,300 jobs. The stores are based on careful, edited retailing which only encountered problems in the last decade.
In 2019 the company survived a previous crisis through a large cash injection from its owner, the closure of 40 stores and a CVA that cut rents on three-quarters of its stores.
Monsoon’s international business is unaffected, with 49 stores and 966 staff outside the UK.
Quiz, the Glasgow-based fashion group, put its physical stores division into administration in early June. Ninety-three head-office and warehouse redundancies have already been declared. The business wants to renegotiate rents for its 82 stores and the eventual size of the group will only be known, when this has been done. KPMG has been appointed to review the firm’s options, which are likely to include store closures. There are 915 staff in the stores division. Quiz’s online business continues unaffected, as are its 300+ concessions.
Victoria’s Secret, the UK arm of the U.S.-owned global retailer, went into administration early in June 2020 having made a loss now known (Aug 2020) to be £100m in the last financial year. The UK fashion trade has experienced a torrid three years and the coronavirus lockdown, which prevented ‘non-essential’ stores trading (though not online), has been the final hammer blow. There are 25 stores and 800 staff. The company is reported as looking for a light-touch administration, allowing them to restructure the business, reduce costs and possibly find a new owner.
Aldo, a Canadian-based international chain of stores, went into administration early in May. Five UK stores have been permanently closed, leaving eight surviving while the administrators seek new owners for the UK business. The UK network is up for sale, but many of the stores are franchised and are not ‘owned’ by Aldo Canada. Aldo shoes, handbags and accessories are still available for purchase in the UK both online and in its 28 UK concessions. The Irish arm of Aldo has already gone into administration. The company and its brands (chiefly ‘Aldo’ and ‘Call It Spring’) are major international businesses, operating around 3,000 stores globally served by 20,000 staff. Apart from the UK, Aldo businesses are expected to reopen as each government permits in the post-coronavirus world.
DVF Studio, the luxury fashion company owned by Diane von Furstenberg, has gone into administration, citing ‘coronavirus’, and is closing its Mayfair store. The company has an online business as well as concessions in prestigious department stores, including Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. It announced earlier in 2020 that it was starting a subscription luxury service. The e-commerce business and concessions continue to trade.
Antler, the luggage retailer which runs 18 stores and a concession, went into administration in mid-May. There are 194 employees: 164 of these have been made redundant. The Administrators announced in mid-July that they had successfully sold the brand name, Online business, stock and assets, but the stores remain closed and there was no news of their future.
Johnsons’ Shoes, also trading as Bowleys Fine Shoes, went into administration in mid-May. There are 12 stores, all in the South East of England. The 145 furloughed staff will retain their jobs as the administrators seek to reopen the businesses. The group was later acquired by Newjohn Limited, part of Daniel Footwear. Six stores were closed.
Dawson’s Music, one of the oldest stores selling musical instruments (est. 1898), went into administration early in May. There are six stores in Leeds, Manchester, Chester, Liverpool, Reading and Belfast. It is still open and is hoping to be sold as a going concern. There are 75 staff. The coronavirus lockdown proved to be the last straw for a retail group that was already facing a decline in sales. There is also an Educational Division which supplies schools, colleges and universities. In late May, the chain was purchased by Andrew and Karen Oliver, who took over all the stores and retained the staff.
J Crew, the U.S. fashion retailer with six UK stores, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the beginning of May. It has 500 stores in the U.S., trades online, and owns the J Crew Factory and Madewell brands. It intends to continue trading online while it gives control of the business to its lenders who will cancel debts of $1.65bn (£1.3bn). It is unclear how this will affect its UK business.
L K Bennet, the fashion retailer which went into administration in March 2019, is to extend its administration for another twelve months. The company expects to open seven stores on 15 June 2020 (when non-essential stores are allowed to start trading) with the remaining 10 stores to open at a later date.
Oasis and Warehouse, two fashion retailers owned by Icelandic-Bank Kaupthing, went into administration in mid-April 2020, having failed to find a buyer for the group. All its 92 stores were closed, 2,300 staff made redundant and the 437 concessions terminated. The 13 stores and 29 concessions in the Irish Republic had already gone in into administration under Irish law: there were 248 staff in Ireland. The Oasis and Warehouse brands and e-commerce operations were bought by Hilco, which sold them in June to BooHoo, the successful e-commerce apparel business. BooHoo raised £200m in May to help it take advantage of ‘opportunities’, and now also owns brands such as NastyGal, PrettyLittleThing, Karen Millen, MissPap and Coast. Concessions and stores in other countries will continue to trade. Oasis and Warehouse had been suffering recently from the problems common to most UK mid-range fashion businesses. The coronavirus lockdown – closing all its stores – made it impossible to continue operating and ended any chance of a sale.
Spicers, the office-supplies wholesaler, employing 1,200 people started by John Spicer in 1796 ceased trading in April. It built up a European presence, but the UK arm and the European operations were separated in 2011, Spicers being bought by Better Capital, the private equity firm controlled by John Moulton. When it went into administration its administrators were not able to sell it and the business was liquidated.
Simply Scuba, an award-winning diving retailer based in Faversham, went into administration in June. Thirty-two jobs are at risk. The Simply Group also runs SimplyHike and SimplySwim. The Simply Scuba website continues to trade.
Kath Kidston, the vintage-inspired fashion and accessories chain, appointed administrators early in April 2020. It has now announced that it will close its UK branches, concentrating on Asia, the wholesale business and online sales. The company – like many fashion retailers – has had problems in maintaining sales and profitability. Since 2018 it lost £27m, resulting in its closing stores and cutting head-office staff. There are 200 stores globally. All 60 UK sites are to close, with only 32 of its 941 UK staff being retained. It will now operate in the UK as an online-only retailer. The company’s owners, Barings Private Equity Asia, have bought it out of administration on a pre-pack basis, having previously tried to sell it. Finances were so poor towards the end that initially Kath Kidson announced that they would only be paying part of the wages owed to employees: they have now agreed to make payments in full, but a up to a week late. The company suppliers, including HMRC and clothing manufacturers, are owned £90m by the failed company.
Autonomy Clothing, a small fashion chain with three stores, 100 concessions and 44 staff, went into administration towards the end of March 2020. It has been beset by the same problems as the rest of the industry, the lockdown being the last straw. All employees have been made redundant.
Lombok, the aspirational furniture and furnishings business, went into administration at the end of March. It operates both online and offline and is best known for its teak products made mostly from reclaimed timber. It has experienced two pre-pack administrations before (2009 and 2011). All 43 staff have been made redundant.
Brighthouse, the rent-to-own household goods retailer, appointed administrators at the end of March 2020. There are 240 stores and 2,700 employees. The administration does not affect customers that rent goods, as their obligations will transfer first to the administrators and then to any new owner. The business mainly deals with low-income households and was fined by the financial regulator for mis-selling and ‘unfair’ interest charged as part of consumer transactions. The compensation it must pay to 250,000 customers is understood to cost £1m per month and its most-recent financial report (February 2020) showed showed corporate losses of £16m.
Laura Ashley, the fashion retailer with 155 stores, went into administration in mid-March 2020. The administrators permanently closed 70 of the company’s outlets: 1,669 staff were furloughed and 677 staff continued working in the business with more redundancies announced in mid-June. Only 18 of its remaining stores have re-opened post lockdown, though this may not be ominous. Gordon Bros have been allowed to purchase the Laura Ashley brand and its archives, leaving the future of the stores, logistics and manufacturing in Britain and Ireland unresolved. The Pension Protection Fund is asking for another administrator to be appointed to ensure the protection of Laura Ashley shareholders. Administration comes after a long period of poor results from a retailer that had been a star in the 80s and early 90s. The post-2016 deterioration in fashion sales affecting most clothing retailers was certainly a factor, but the failure of the business to match modern consumer requirements meant it was difficult to see the purpose of the company.
Kikki.K, an Australian-based retail group selling Swedish-designed stationery, has gone into voluntary administration as a result of the problems of Australian retailing plus the cost of its global expansion (now including Hong Kong, the UK, Singapore and New Zealand). There are up to five stores in the UK, three shops-within-shops in stores like Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges and an online business which, in Europe, seems now to be switched through to Australia. There are 100 stores globally. The Australian stores remain open, but the UK online business is currently uncontactable due to ‘unprecedented shipping delays’.
Homebase, the DIY chain, has returned to profit after its experiences first as Bunnings UK and then a large CVA case. It used its CVA to cut rents and close more than 70 stores. It is therefore quitting its CVA eighteen months early. CVAs have had mixed results when used by retailers, but this is one that seems to have turned up trumps for the business.
Soak, a major online bathroom products retailer, went into administration at the end of February. The market is intensely competitive and Soak’s revenue fell from £70m (2018) to £43m (2019). Its profit on the 2018 figures was only £2.9m. Price competition between online and bricks-and-mortar retailers has meant that few operators are making much of a profit, hence the decline of Soak and the collapse of other kitchen and bathroom retailers, such as Better Bathrooms. There are 220 employees.
T J Hughes Outlet Division has issued a notice of intended administration for its Outlet Division, prior to renegotiating their rents. Lewis’s Home Retail Limited, a subsidiary of LHR Holdings (the master company for T J Hughes), owns eight stores, two of which have already been saved via agreed rent reductions. This does not affect the whole Group, but only outlet stores.
HonestJohn.co.uk, the online advice website for car owners, went into administration and has been bought by Heycar, an online retailer of used cars. The staff, IP and assets have been transferred.
Ashbury Furniture, a large furniture and soft furnishings salesroom, went into administration in February, caused by constant road engineering on the M20 (making it hard to get to the showroom) and the impact of rent and rates.
Ena Shaw, a producer and retailer of soft furnishings based in St Helens, went into administration in February 2020, closing its factory and store. There were 167 employees.
Oddbins, the wine and drinks off-licence business of European Food Brokers, went into administration at the beginning of February. There are 56 stores, mostly trading as Oddbins or Wine Cellars: two have now closed. Employees number around 567. Less than one year ago 45 EFB off-licence businesses were sold or closed on the basis that they were no longer viable.
Hearing and Mobility, a specialist national chain of hearing and mobility stores, has ceased trading and administrators have been appointed. Hearing and Mobility (HHML) is a Northampton-based company founded in 2002 with 18,000 customers. It established a chain of 27 hearing and mobility stores throughout Britain, later focusing mainly on the Midlands and the South with 15 stores. Starting in 2016, the company closed many of its mobility stores to concentrate on hearing disabilities. The company rarely made a profit and by January 2020 had only four stores. After its stores had ‘temporarily’ ceased trading they were sold to two other companies trading in this vertical market. Amplify Hearing has acquired HHML hearing operations, assets and 76 staff, enabling customers to continue being provided with service.
Hawkins Bazaar, a Norwich-based games retailer with a focus on adult merchandise, went into administration in the latter days of January. There are 20 stores and 177 staff. The company went into administration previously in 2011. Weak trading in 2019 and a poor Christmas have led the firm’s current problems. The stores will remain open while a buyer is found, but by mid-February were all to close.
Houseology, a Glasgow-based e-commerce furniture business, has gone into administration after a doleful Christmas. Twenty-three staff have been made redundant. Bureau, its office-oriented associate business, continues to trade and is not affected by Houseology’s failure. By the end of February Houseology’s assets including IP had been acquired by competitor Olivia, part of the Moot Group. Moot Group started in 2018 and is targeting turnover of £20m by end-2020.
Beales, a 22-store department store chain, went into into administration, having failed to find a new owner or additional finance in the latter end of 2019. At first, the company’s stores remained open in the hope that a new owner could be found. They have all now closed. The loss-making stores in the Midlands and the South were closed suddenly when no new owner cold be found, and were followed a fortnight later by the remaining stores, which were mostly in East Anglia. Losses rose from -£1.3m in 2018 to -£3.1m in 2019 and poor trading over Christmas made it essential to secure new funding. The company had announced in December 2019 that it was in difficulties and needed refinancing. Beales employed more than 1,200 staff. Colliers International reported in January 2020 that Beales was paying £2.85m in business rates, £1m more than should have been the case.
Jessops, the chain of camera dealers now with only 17 stores, appointed administrators at the end of March. It had previously gone into administration at the end of 2019, after which it closed more than half its stores. In the Lockdowns the shops have been unable to trade and more and more business is shifting online. There are around 120 staff.
The Hummingbird Bakery, a London-based American-style bakery, has been bought by pre-pack administration by Acropolis Capital, a family investment company. The Hummingbird bakery and three of its stores are part of the pre-pack, but two other sites are excluded.
Preston St George’s Shopping Centre went into the control of administrators on February 2 2021, when its parent company (InfraRed) entered administration. InfraRed acquired the Shopping Centre in 2015 for £73m, supported by a loan from Wells Fargo Bank. Trading continues as normal, although the Preston Centre, in common with every UK shopping mall, has suffered considerably from the closure of non-food stores in Lockdown.
Paperchase, the up-market stationery, student accessories and gift business, has gone through a pre-pack administration, closing 37 stores with the loss of 500 jobs. Before issuing a notice of intent to appoint administrators in early January 2021, the company had 127 stores and around 1,500 staff. The new owners are to be Permira. Around 40 per cent of Paperchase sales occur in November and December each year, but government restrictions have meant that most stores had been closed for up to six of its best shopping weeks.
Jaeger brand and stock have been purchased by Marks & Spencer, but not its staff and stores. All 63 Jaeger stores and concessions, its retail staff and 80 per cent of head office staff will be made redundant apart from a few employees in distribution and head office. The brands Austin Reed and Jacques Vert, previously operating as part of the Jaeger Group, did not form part of the M&S acquisition.
Source: Centre for Retail Research
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