Britain's BHS to shut up shop

By James Quinn

The rescue bid for BHS has failed putting the 88 year old business and its 11,000 employees into jeopardy after administrators concluded their search for potential buyers. Photo / Getty Images
The rescue bid for BHS has failed putting the 88 year old business and its 11,000 employees into jeopardy after administrators concluded their search for potential buyers. Photo / Getty Images

UK's high street department store chain BHS has collapsed, with up to 11,000 jobs likely to go.

It is going under after 88 years after a series of rescue bids failed to deliver a viable future for the department store retailer.

The collapse is the biggest in the British retail sector since the demise of Woolworths at the height of the financial crisis.

Sir Philip Green, who owned BHS from 2000 until 2015, said he was "saddened and disappointed" by the winding up order, issued by administrator Duff & Phelps yesterday afternoon.

Dominic Chappell, who bought the business from Sir Philip in March last year, said the news was "devastating" and that he was "deeply sorry it has happened".

Administrator Duff & Phelps declared the end of the road for the retailer after a five-week long sales process ended yesterday morning with no suitable buyer stepping forward.

It is understood the administrators believed any would-be buyer needed at least £100m (NZ$210m) on day one to fund working capital for the retailer, to buy stock and pay rent and salaries.

Although it is believed a number of viable offers for parts of the retailer were received, administrators felt it was in the best interest of creditors to try to sell the business as one. When that did not happen, it chose to move to an orderly wind-up.

Phil Duffy, the managing director of Duff & Phelps, praised the considerable efforts of BHS senior management, led by chief executive Darren Topp, in trying to find a buyer.

Head office staff and regional managers were informed of the closure, but many staff at its 164 shops across Britain learnt of the news from the media.

At its Surrey Quays store in south east London, staff appeared not to know immediately what had happened, despite the shutter coming down on the shop almost immediately.

One worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "The managers told us nothing, they're just sitting in the office."

The announcement of the orderly wind down came after a series of last minute negotiations. Until Wednesday night, Richess Group, led by Greg Tufnell, a former boss of Mothercare and the since collapsed menswear supplier Marchpole, and brother of the cricketer Phil Tufnell, had been the front runner to buy the business. But questions about access to sufficient working capital led to its bid being discounted.

BHS administrators concluded their search for potential buyers. Photo / Getty Images
BHS administrators concluded their search for potential buyers. Photo / Getty Images

Sources also indicated that a late 11th bid may have come in from Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, who had been involved earlier in the sale process, but equally that came to nothing.

A litany of other big retail names, including Matalan founder John Hargreaves and Edinburgh Woollen Mill's Philip Day, had shown interest in rescuing parts of the business.

The retail specialist Hilco, which assisted with the winding up of Woolworths and is better known as the owner of the music chain HMV, has been appointed by Duff & Phelps to assist it in shutting down the shops and selling the assets. All 164 stores will be shut after a closing-down sale to rid them of remaining stock, although there is thought to be a possibility that the brand may be sold for online or other purposes.


The winding-down process will deliver funds to secured creditors, including Sir Philip, who is owed some £40m (NZ$84 million).

Damian Sumner, head of retail agency at the property firm JLL, said BHS's real estate, which covers some 5.5m sq ft across the UK, will lead to a "scramble from discount retailers" to take on the bigger stores, "with the weakest stores closing immediately."

The store closures will lead to the direct loss of 8,000 jobs within the stores, and the likelihood of a further 3,000 cuts for non-BHS employees who work in the shops in areas such as catering and cleaning.

BHS went into administration at the end of April, 13 months after it was bought, from Sir Philip by Retail Acquisitions, led by the former racing driver Dominic Chappell, who had no direct retail experience.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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