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Updated: 3rd December 2019

2019 High Street Winners and Losers

The challenges facing the high street have been well documented, and as the year draws to a close and consumers turn their attention to Christmas shopping, retailers are hoping to take a slice of increased seasonal spending to top up their bottom lines.

However for some, even a successful Christmas will be too little too late. The first half of 2019 saw 2,868 store closures, a number which equates to 16 every day. This is the greatest number of store closures seen for five years and while figures for the final half of the year are yet to be seen, it is likely they will make for equally glum reading.

Sectors suffering the biggest net declines on our high streets were: fashion retailers who lost 118 net stores, restaurants losing 103 outlets, estate agents suffering a 100 branch net drop, and pubs where 96 more closed than opened between January and June this year.

This has undoubtedly been a trying year for many within retail, but some high street stalwarts found the tough trading conditions increasingly difficult to manage and succumbed to the pressure. While for some companies 2019 was a time for restructuring and reassessing their market position, for others 2019 marked the end of their time on our high streets. Here we look at those retailers for whom 2019 will go down as a year they would rather forget.

-        Patisserie Valerie – 2019 started with the news that an accounting scandal had forced café chain, Patisserie Valerie, to bring in the administrators. Around 70 of the company’s 200 branches were closed immediately with the loss of 900 jobs. Causeway Capital stepped in to rescue the chain in a move which saved around 2,000 across the remaining 100 stores.  Since the takeover more than 20 of these stores have shut their doors for good, although the company does still continue to enjoy a substantial presence across the country.

-        Bon Marche – The womenswear retailer entered administration in October, putting 2887 jobs at risk across 318 stores around the country. Talks with potential buyers are still ongoing and the company continues to trade, however, 100 stores are likely to close.

This is the second time the struggling retailer has collapsed into administration; the first time was in 2012 when it was subsequently saved as part of a rescue deal by private equity firm Sun European Partners. At the time of its administration this time around, the company was controlled by Philip Day, owner of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group, who had a 95 per cent ownership in the retailer.

-        Mothercare – Blaming increased competition from both supermarkets and online retailers, the baby goods retailer called in administrators in November. After 58 years of trading, all 79 UK stores are set to close putting 2,500 jobs on the line. While the name will disappear from UK high streets, it appears the brand will live on thanks to its strong presence overseas. Mothercare operate more than 1000 stores across 40 countries which will continue to trade as these do not form part of the administration.

Trouble was initially flagged up at the retailer when it entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) 18 months ago which led to the closure of 55 stores as it attempted to streamline operations and reduce outgoings. CVAs have become increasingly popular, particularly with high street retailers; however, Mothercare is a prime example of how a CVA is not a panacea to trading troubles.

"The first half of 2019 saw 2,868 store closures, a number which equates to 16 every day."

-        Mamas & Papas – In a cruel bout of coincidence, Mamas & Papas quickly followed Mothercare into administration, entering into formal insolvency proceedings just six days after their main competitor. However, the situation with Mamas & Papas is slightly different to that of Mothercare due to the fact that a pre-pack administration process has already been confirmed with currents owners buying back the company’s assets.

As part of this process six of the company’s 27 stores have closed resulting in 73 job losses. The remaining stores, concessions, and online platform continue to trade as normal although plans to “simplify” its head office operations means further job cuts cannot be ruled out.

-        Thomas Cook – Perhaps the most high-profile insolvency case of the year, Thomas Cook entered compulsory liquidation in September leaving thousands of holidaymakers stranded, and 2,500 members of staff out of a job. The 178 year old tour operator ceased trading with immediate effect with debts totalling over £1.7bn.

In a surprising twist, Sunderland-based Hays Travel, stepped in to buy all 555 Thomas Cook outlets and signalled their intention to re-employ as many former Thomas Cook employees as possible. Stores will trade under the Hays name meaning the Thomas Cook brand will disappear from the high street altogether. Whether Hays will be able to make success where Thomas Cook failed is yet to be seen.

-        Debenhams – The department store fell into administration back in April before being taken over by Celine, a consortium of lenders as part of a pre-pack deal. All shareholders – which included Mike Ashley’s almost-30 per cent stake – lost their equity. A CVA was quickly implemented and a legal challenge from Sports Direct, who wanted to thwart the CVA, was successfully defeated. The CVA will allow for proposed store closures to go ahead in the new year.

Twenty two stores have already been earmarked for closure which is expected to result in the loss of 1,200 jobs. It is anticipated that Debenhams will look to close a further 50 of their 166 stores although the locations of these branches have not yet been announced. With 25,000 employees, it is as yet unsure how many jobs are likely to be lost.

-        Office Outlet – The stationery retailer called in administrators in March which led to the immediate closure of 40 of its 94 stores. However, when the search for a buyer was not successful, the rest of the chains branches were closed during the summer. Over 1,170 people worked for the company, which was formally known as Staples, at the time of its administration.

-        Karen Millen – September saw Karen Millen and its sister store, Coast, collapse into administration. All 32 UK stores, along with 117 concessions, were closed in September following administrators being appointed. However, the brands live on following their acquisition by online retailer Boohoo. Staying true to its online roots, however, Boohoo only bought the brands’ digital rights and relaunched Karen Millen and Coast as online-only retailers in October.

-        Jack Wills – Lifestyle brand Jack Wills employed 1,700 staff across their 100 UK stores when it went into administration this summer. The brand was subsequently bought by Mike Ashley and continues to trade although eight stores were closed as part of the deal and negotiations are ongoing with the landlords of the worst performing stores in an effort to cut costs. Ashley has since come out and said that he is not interesting in “saving” anymore failing high street retailers citing a “lack of protection for shareholders [and] owners.”

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