Belfast Telegraph

BHS administration move puts four Northern Ireland stores and 300 jobs at risk

Retail giant architect of own downfall after failing to move with times, say retail experts

By John Mulgrew

The collapse of retail giant BHS - which could see up to 300 jobs go at its stores in Northern Ireland - has been blamed on the chain's long-running failure to meet the demands of "21st-century customers".

A total of 11,000 jobs are at risk across BHS's 164 stores in the UK, after the firm entered administration.

BHS has four stores in Northern Ireland - a large outlet in the heart of Belfast city centre, along with three others in Newtownabbey, Holywood and Lisburn. The 88-year-old retailer's potential closure could be the biggest failure on the high street since the demise of Woolworths in 2008.

The stores are now in the hands of administrators Duff & Phelps, and will continue to trade for now.

The collapse of the business has been attributed to BHS's "failure to change quickly enough to reflect changes in the tastes and preferences of today's highly discerning, demanding and discriminating consumers".

That's according to Donald McFetridge, retail analyst at Ulster University.

"This has resulted in the tragic news that they will no longer be a feature of our high streets," he said. "The four stores in this geographic region will undoubtedly suffer the same fate as their counterparts in other parts of the country.

"The sad answer is that consumers were not shopping in BHS in sufficient numbers to drive the volume, footfall and spending power required for the company to continue to operate, in what has become one of the most competitive retail markets in the world."

He also warned that BHS is "not the last store group" which is failing to change to meet customer demands, and therefore, others could face a similar fate in future.

"There are other operators pitching for consumer loyalty in the same product category, at the same price point, who will, unfortunately, follow in their wake if they too fail to keep abreast of changes."

The possible loss of the four stores here will have a detrimental affect on businesses in the same vicinity, according to Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association.

"The potential closure of the four local BHS stores will not just have an impact on their staff but also result in less footfall for surrounding retailers.

"Change is the only constant in retail and it does seem that BHS did not keep up with the marketplace and the expectations of 21st-century consumers."

BHS, formerly branded British Home Stores, sells a range of furniture, clothing and lighting, as well as convenience groceries.

Despite failing to keep up with changing markets over the decades, it's troubles have stirred up old memories from some customers.

Broadcaster and presenter Eamonn Holmes said on Twitter: "I remember BHS best for lighting," while he said Sky News colleague Sarah-Jane Mee "remembers getting her school uniform there".

Retail experts Which? have advised anyone with a BHS voucher or gift card to "spend it as quickly as possible".

BHS was bought last year by a consortium called Retail Acquisitions, headed by Dominic Chappell, for £1 from entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, the owner of the Arcadia retail empire.

The retailer has debts of more than £1.3bn, including a pension fund deficit of £571m.

Yesterday the owners of BHS were accused of sucking £30m in cash out of the company in a single year of ownership.

Last month BHS asked its creditors to agree to a CVA - a form of insolvency which allows businesses to change and alter their lease arrangements in order to reach financial compromise with creditors.

Sports Direct is understood to want some of BHS's 164 stores, but will only do so if it does not have to take on any pension liabilities. The pensions watchdog said it has launched a probe into the arrangements at the troubled department chain.

Belfast Telegraph