Way ahead for Dunnes Stores uncertain
Over the past few weeks, Dunnes Stores has closed four outlets in Northern Ireland, which has resulted in concern for many employees over the future of the company in this region.
In addition, their recent trading results were less impressive than anticipated.
There have been store closures in Ballymoney, Antrim, Portadown and Connswater.
News that they are planning to close the grocery aspect of their business at the Park Centre in Belfast has sent further ripples of doubt about their commitment to Northern Ireland throughout the food retailing sector.
I firmly believe that Dunnes Stores is still a formidable force to be reckoned with on these shores, as well as further afield, for example, in Scotland and Spain.
However, the question still remains: what does the future hold for Dunnes? There have been rumours in the industry that Dunnes plans to enter the wider UK market and that they are keen to purchase vacant units from Marks & Spencer and BhS.
Dunnes, of course, has a well-acknowledged reputation for recalcitrance when asked to comment on these matters, as it is one of the last bastions of retailing which can be accurately labelled "family-owned and run". They traditionally play their cards close to their chest.
Marks & Spencer used to label their own-brand merchandise with the St Michael logo, while Dunnes Stores used St Bernard on their merchandise.
In spite of the fact that these branding concepts have disappeared from the labels of the merchandise in both companies, it would appear that even their patron saints cannot protect the reputations, or futures, of either.
Like Dunnes, Marks & Spencer also has huge question marks over its future direction.
But one thing is clear: my understanding is that the Dunne family will want to keep the business in their control and Margaret Heffernan (daughter of the founder, Ben Dunne) will - according to well-placed sources in the industry - remain at the helm for the foreseeable future.
Whether or not consumers will always regard Dunnes as "always better value" is another matter altogether.
- Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster University Business School