Debenhams confirms plans to shut six stores with the loss of 320 jobs

Debenhams confirms plans to shut six stores permanently including flagship Oxford Street store with the loss of 320 jobs

  • Debenhams confirmed plans to sell off six stores, affecting 320 members of staff
  • The planned store closures include the chain’s flagship Oxford Street branch
  • It comes after JD Sports pulled out of deal to rescue historical high street chain

Debenhams will shut the chain’s flagship Oxford Street store along with five others permanantly as the liquidation of the historical chain continues.  

The department store closures will result in the loss of around 320 jobs, with stores in Portsmouth, Staines, Harrogate, Weymouth and Worcester closing their doors for good. 

The company started a liquidation process last month after failing to secure a last-minute rescue sale. 

The chains remaining 139 shops are currently trying to sell off all their stock – a process made harder by the current national lockdown. 

Debenhams will shut the chain’s flagship Oxford Street store along with five others permanantly as the wind down of the historical chain continues 

Debenhams’ administrator, FRP Advisory, has said it is continuing to talk with third parties over the potential sales of all or parts of the historic retail business.

Geoff Rowley, joint administrator to Debenhams and partner at FRP, said: ‘We continue to engage with interested parties over alternative proposals for the future of Debenhams, but inevitably the latest lockdown has had an effect on our plans for the wind-down of the business.

‘We regret the impact on those colleagues affected by today’s announcement and would like to thank all those who continue to keep the business trading in very difficult circumstances.’

The chain became one of the largest high street casualties at the end of last year after rescue talks with JD Sport fell through.

The chain had been in administration since April, but when any hopes of a rescue were dashed, it drew a line under 242 years of trading and put 12,000 jobs at risk. 

It was announced at the start of December that all Debenhams stores were to close for good after last-ditch attempts to save the retailer failed 

It followed a bruising year for the high street which saw Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia group also collapse.

Debenhams disappears after 242 years on the British high street 

Shoppers are seen charging through the doors of one Debenhams department store on the first day of a sale at the height of its strength in 1977

Debenhams began as a draper business at 44 Wigmore Street in London in 1778. Initially founded by William Clark, William Debenham became a partner in the business in 1813 and changed the name to Clark & Debenham.

The business grew, opening branches in Cheltenham and Harrogate, before Clark retired in 1837 and it became Debenham, Pooley & Smith.

In 1851, it became Debenham & Freebody after Clement Freebody invested in the firm and it opened offices in South Africa, Australia, Canada and China.

It was incorporated as Debenhams Limited in 1905 and its new headquarters was completed in 1908 in west London’s Wigmore Street.

The company began buying existing department stores across the country, including Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge in 1920.

Debenhams was listed as a company on the London stock exchange for the first time in 1928 and by 1950 became the largest department store group in the UK. At the time it owned 84 companies and 110 stores and in 1976 it acquired Brown’s of Chester.

This was the only store to retain its name when all the other company’s stores were rebranded Debenhams in 1977.  The company merged with the Burton Group in 1985 but demerged in 1998.

Belinda Earl became CEO in 2000 and Debenhams opened its largest British store in Birmingham’s Bull Ring in 2003. 

But as profits fell Sports Direct bought 4.6 per cent of Debenhams shares in January 2014, and Mike Ashley secured 21 per cent of the company in August 2017. 

In March 2018, Debenhams reduced 320 store management roles across the business and Sports Direct’s shares increased to 29.7 per cent.

The company announced its largest ever pre-tax loss of £491million in 2018 and the closure of up to 50 stores putting 4,000 jobs at risk. 

The company fell into the hands of its lenders, a group of banks and hedge funds led by US firm Silver Point Capital. 

And in April 2020 it announced it needed a buyer. The deal with JD Sports collapsed on December 1.

Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, tipped into administration, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.  

Arcadia’s concessions, including  Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, were worth £75million-a-year in sales to Debenhams. 

The collapse set off a domino effect, with JD Sports pulling out of talks to buy Debenhams. 

Experts called the collapse of the two giants at the end of last year one of the most ‘devastating’ weeks in the history of British retail.

Up to 25,000 workers were put at risk of redundancy in the space of 12 hours. 

The number of job losses was so large it equated to losing the entire labour force of the UK fishing industry overnight.

It came in addition to thousands of other job losses as a result of the pandemic, which has pushed businesses across all sectors to breaking point. 

Peacocks and Jaeger, which are owned by the Edinburgh Woolen Mill Group, fell into administration last month, putting 21,000 jobs at risk.

Laura Ashley went bust in March while fashion giants Oasis and Warehouse fell into administration in April.

It comes amid concerns that Paperchase is on the brink of administration after Covid-19 restrictions placed ‘unbearable strain’ on the card and gift retailer’s Christmas sales.

The stationery chain, which usually makes 40 per cent of its annual sales over November and December, was particularly hit by lockdown measures over the festive period.   

Approximately 1,500 jobs and 173 stores are on the line for the retailer, who appointed accountancy firm PwC to handle the administration process.

It was announced at the start of December that all Debenhams stores were to close for good after last-ditch attempts to save the retailer failed. 

It comes after only 40 people turned up at the department store’s flagship store when it opened last month for a fire sale in a bid to clear its stock before closing for good. 

More than a million shoppers tried to snap up a bargain online, with more than 300,000 people trying to get on to the website at one point. The massive influx of customers caused the website to crash. 

Debenham’s remaining department chain stores will stay open until unused stock is sold off.

Announcing the stores liquidation, Debenham’s administrator explained that the remaining options available to the store are a sale of all or part of the UK business; a restructure of Debenhams’ operations; or the orderly wind-down of the Debenhams business.

A previous statement from FRP Advisory said: ‘The sale process has not resulted in a deliverable proposal. 

‘Given the current trading environment and the likely prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for a restructured operation is highly uncertain. 

‘The administrators have therefore regretfully concluded that they should commence a wind-down of Debenhams UK, whilst continuing to seek offers for all or parts of the business.

‘Debenhams will continue to trade through its 124 UK stores and online to clear its current and contracted stocks. 

‘On conclusion of this process, if no alternative offers have been received, the UK operations will close.’ 

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