Brides without dresses as shop struggles to pay debts

Primrose & Finch directors Kerry and Matthew Smith this week filed for a voluntary liquidation of their company. Photo / Facebook
Primrose & Finch directors Kerry and Matthew Smith this week filed for a voluntary liquidation of their company. Photo / Facebook

A bridal boutique is unlikely to be able to pay the more than $100,000 it owes to 59 people who were left in the lurch when the store went bust, according to liquidators.

Primrose & Finch directors Kerry and Matthew Smith this week filed for a voluntary liquidation of their company, which had two stores, one in Melbourne and one in Auckland.

Fifty-nine Kiwi brides who've forked out deposits, in the thousands of dollars, have been left in the lurch after the couple shut the Auckland store, without a word of warning to its suppliers or its clientele.

Bryan Williams, of BWA Insolvency, who was appointed liquidator of the company late on Wednesday evening, said he'd been flooded with calls from brides-to-be.

He said it was "doubtful" the company would be able to cover its debts.

"There's further investigation to be done but the company's not in funds at all."

Primrose & Finch owes more than $109,000 to 59 customers.

Williams said a thorough investigation into the conduct of directors and shareholders of the company would be undertaken, with the fist liquidator's report due out on Wednesday.

He said across the Tasman there were also a number of brides affected by the boutique's closure - the exact figures of which he was yet uncertain.

"I am surprised," he said. "It's far more complex than the directors had led me to believe."

As the Smith's former landlord Cheryl Lilly, of Sera Lilly Bridal, recounted, earlier this year they'd left their Parnell store - for which they'd signed a lease that was set to continue till November this year.

Lilly said after 18 months of the Smiths continually being late on their rent, the couple packed up shop and moved into the company's last known location on Khyber Pass Road.

"They paid the rent the first month, then after that it was like getting blood from a stone, it was always a few days late or a few weeks late.

"Matthew always had excuses for everything, the whole time they were there." Lilly even locked them out of the store once when they continually failed to be forthcoming with their rent.

She said they paid it the first month, but then the excuses started all over again.

"First they were away on business, then the bank card had been hacked and someone had used their accounts fraudulently." Smith wrote on Facebook on August 31 last year that their private and business bank accounts with BNZ had "been hacked" and everything was gone.

She said three transactions for the same amount happened at the same time and was surprised the bank didn't pick up the "major security flaw".

However, BNZ later refunded the money, Smith said in the post.

Lilly finally made a call to change the locks and evict them - but she said the Smiths left before she had a chance.

"We went upstairs and everything was gone." She said neighbours reported seeing trucks moving goods from the store earlier in the week.

While there Lilly said she ran into another bride who'd come to pick up her dress.

"It was awful to think they'd just taken their money and gone," she said. "The awful thing with this, is there's no recourse." Lilly was in the middle of plans to take the couple to court over what she was owed - but wondered if it was worth it now the Smiths were reportedly in the UK.

Bridal numbers

Dress designer Claire Pettibone said she was in contact with around 20 brides who'd ordered one of her dresses from either the Auckland or the Melbourne stores.

"We first heard from one bride, and then a second, when we realised we had to step in, not only to end our relationship with Primrose & Finch, but to assist these brides.

"Little did we know how many were affected, not only with our collection, but other designers as well."

She said while a few were lucky to obtain full refunds, or start over directly with them, some were unable to recover their money.

"In those cases we are offering a generous discount and are doing everything in our power to give them the care they deserve."

Pettibone was "deeply disturbed at the abrupt closing" of both stores in Auckland and Melbourne.

"From what we have learned in speaking with our brides and previous employees of the company, it appears that we were lied to repeatedly.

"Not only does Primrose & Finch have outstanding invoices that are owed for dresses they received from us months ago, but the way they have abandoned their clients is inexcusable."

Pettibone didn't want to disclose how much her company was owed, but said it had not received a cent from the deposits the brides had paid.

For one young couple due to get married in eight weeks, the loss of the bridal dress deposit means a few sacrifices are going to have to be made.

Ashley Moerman, 24, who is due to marry her fiancée on September 23 this year, was in a state of disbelief when she read the news this morning.

"At first I was like: 'no, that can't be my store that I bought it from'," she said. "Why haven't they emailed us, why have I literally not heard anything?"

The secondary school teacher and her husband, who works in the airforce, had hoped to invite extra guests to the wedding - but said the loss of the $1200 deposit would blow their budget.

"We were trying to do our whole wedding on quite a tight budget.

"It also spoils the joy on the day, even if I do get the dress I ordered, in the back of my mind I'll be thinking, 'man it was such a disaster to get'."

She hoped her London-based dress designer, Katya Katya Shehurina would still have her dress.

Otherwise, Moerman said she'd be forced to go shopping in the morning.

"I've been calling all the stores I can think of around Auckland to get an off-the-rack dress; I'm not that happy about that, but what more can you do?"

Troubled finances

Williams said the directors, Kerry and Matthew Smith, indicated the liquidation had come about as a result of the Melbourne business going wrong.

However, a former contractor who worked as a seamstress for the Australian store, Jayne Coney, told the Herald as far as she knew it business was going strong.

"He told me it hadn't been a good season, which is rubbish because we'd been selling dresses like crazy, making a lot of money," she said. "But apparently in New Zealand it had been a bad season."

Email correspondence given to the Herald showed Smith use his financial troubles as an excuse to staff for their unpaid wages.

"This has been the hardest wedding season by far, and we have learnt a lot of valuable lessons," he wrote. "I am trying to juggle cash at the moment."

Coney had stopped working for the company in Easter this year, after repeated attempts to get the directors to pay the $A1800 [$NZ1900] went unheeded.

According to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission site Primrose & Finch Limited was registered in the country on June 11, 2015 and despite the store's closure, less than a year after it opened, the company remains on the register.

Williams initially thought the Melbourne store had closed earlier this year, in May, but has since heard another employee might have been hired to take on the store in June.

"It's concerning, if they knowingly took transactions and knew they weren't going to be able to deliver."

Williams said it was early days yet to speculate on whether this had indeed happened, but said serious penalties, including being banned from the companies register, could apply if this was proven.

He added the law leaned heavily on those who took advantage of individual consumers who don't have as much power as a business.

He said the liquidation process was a complicated matter that could take weeks.

Free dress to a good home

One recently married Auckland woman is offering anyone in need of a dress her gown.

Amber Cameron said having gone through two dresses before finally getting the one of her dreams, she could relate a little to the women's predicament.

"This is terribly distressing and unfair."

She said similar issues with other bridal stores had led to her own last ditch dash to another store that came to her rescue.

"I just wanted to offer my stunning wedding dress; it's been dry cleaned and was only worn for two hours, to any bride who would like it."

She said the dress sold for $3000 when new and "needs a good home".

Because it was a lace-up dress Cameron said it would easily fit anyone from a size six to a size 14.

The Dimitrov-designed dress which was silk patterned, fits snuggly around the waist before flowing out into a mid-size train.

- NZ Herald

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