The worst fears of 140 workers at Laser Electrical were confirmed yesterday after administrators closed the company’s doors for good.
KPMG said it had failed to find a buyer for Laser, the largest locally-owned electrical retailer, in the week since its directors put the company into administration due of financial difficulties.
“It is with regret that the rescue of the business as a going concern has not been possible and that the majority of employees have now been made redundant,” said KPMG’s John Hansen, the firm’s joint administrator.
A number of staff will be kept on to help KPMG wind down the company, he said.
The demise of the once hugely successful retailer illustrates how difficult it has become for independent local companies to survive in a climate where consumers are still reluctant to spend.
Laser was in direct competition with national chains like Dixons, Currys, Comet and Harvey Norman, while supermarkets including Tesco and Asda have also ramped up their sales of consumer goods such as TVs, DVD players and microwaves.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said the closure of Laser was a “terrible blow” to both the local economy and its staff.
“It is further proof that we are in no way in a sustainable recovery as retailers continue to struggle with a downturn in spending,” he said.
“Another factor in its closure is that so many of the multiple supermarkets now stock so many electrical products and therefore it was going to difficult for Laser to compete on that basis.”
Laser, which has stores in retail parks including Connswater in Belfast and Lisnagelvin in Derry, celebrated its 25th anniversary at its Boucher Road store in November last year.
At the time managing director Liam Scullion said the firm was looking forward to “another 25 years at the forefront of electrical retailing in Northern Ireland”.
But the administrators said that falling turnover, a squeeze on profit margins and general economic uncertainty had led to problems with cashflow and its directors had been unable to attract new investors, leaving no option but administration.
Laser’s 140 full and part-time staff had feared the worst after KPMG met them on April 2 and told them not to return to work until yesterday.
Mr Hansen said KPMG was still dealing with customer inquiries and creditors who may have a claim to goods at the company’s premises.
The company’s 10 stores will remain closed until these inquiries are dealt with but it is likely stock held by the firm will be sold off to pay creditors.
Northern Ireland’s retail sector has generally held up well in the recession because of strong cross-border trade, although supermarkets and larger chains based a retail parks close to the Republic’s border have benefited most.
While there have been high-profile casualties on the High Street during the recession, such as Woolworths and Zavvi, there have recently been some signs of growth in Belfast, with new stores being unveiled by brands such as Republic and Lakeland, as well as a host of discount retailers setting up shop, such as TJ Hughes and Poundland.