Hundreds of jobs at risk after card chain's collapse
Hundreds of jobs in Northern Ireland could be lost after Clinton Cards collapsed into administration.
Clinton Cards, which operates 628 Clinton and 139 Birthdays stores, is the UK's biggest card retailer and according to its website has 8,350 employees across the UK, mostly working in store, many on a part-time basis.
There are around 4,800 Birthdays employees.
It is thought the administrators will continue to run the stores as normal while seeking a buyer, but Zolfo Cooper, administrator for Clinton Cards, warned it was likely that "a number of stores" will need to be closed to make the business viable.
There are 14 Clinton Cards stores in Northern Ireland and 16 Birthdays outlets, but the company couldn't confirm how many people it employed here.
The firm's woes are another hammerblow to our high streets as it follows high-profile retailers like Game, Peacocks and La Senza into administration.
Clinton has come up against stiff competition from supermarkets and online retailers such as Funky Pigeon and Moonpig, which sell personalised cards.
It made a pre-tax loss of £3.7m in the 26 weeks to January 29, compared with a profit of £11.7m in the previous year, and warned that the second half of the year would be below expectations.
Administrators at Zolfo Cooper said the group had made losses of £130m since 2004.
Clintons Cards stores are located in Portadown, Ballymena, Banbridge, Craigavon, Downpatrick, Antrim, Bangor, Newtownards, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and four in Belfast - Connswater, Forestside, Castle Court and Donegall Place.
The Birthdays branches are in Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Coleraine, Cookstown, Craigavon, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Larne, Limavady, Lisburn, Lurgan, Newtownabbey, Newtownards, Omagh and Strabane.
University of Ulster retail expert Donald McFetridge said that retailers like Clinton Cards have over-extended their retail operations on the high street and financially with the banks.
"Niche retailers like Clinton Cards and Birthdays have even - in some instances - cannibalised their own markets with more than one outlet in many towns and cities throughout the UK," Mr McFetridge said.
"In addition to this, the greetings card market has changed irrevocably.
"Where once consumers visited such stores to purchase greetings cards, they are much more likely - in these straitened times - to send a birthday or other greeting via many of the social networking sites such as Facebook.
"I know one person who usually received six cards on their birthday each year who this year, instead, received 37 birthday greetings via their Facebook page.
"Such is the nature of the marketplace."