Belfast Telegraph

Company behind fashion chain to be wound up though trading will go on

By Rachel Martin

The company which ran Houstons Fashions is expected to be wound up in February 2016 after four years in administration, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

PwC were appointed as joint administrators of Houston Fashions (Ballymena and Lurgan) Ltd in April 2012.

The department store chain had been trading for 62 years, though Houstons Fashions (Ballymena and Lurgan) itself was set up as a company in 1981.

Houstons stores will remain open in Armagh, Banbridge, Enniskillen, Downpatrick, Lurgan and Portadown, as well as Dundalk and Drogheda in the Republic.

The latest administrators' progress report for Houston Fashions states that the administration is due to end in April next year.

At the time the administration was announced, director John Houston blamed a challenging climate for retail, residential and commercial property on the island for the company's decline.

At its peak, the firm ran stores in Armagh, Banbridge, Ballymena, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Lurgan, Carlow and Dundalk and employed 250 people.

Following the company's administration, staff in Ballymena lost their jobs, while the buildings of other stores were sold off to pay creditors.

The stores have now been taken over by JP Retail (NI), a separate company which was incorporated in March 2012.

John and Peter Houston, two of the directors of Houston Fashions, are listed as directors of JP Retail (NI).

The administrators arranged for the agreement of new leases to JP Retail (NI), which involved the transfer of the majority of the company's 250 employees, saving most of the jobs connected to the business. This meant that the majority of outlets were able to continue to trade and secured rental income from the properties. 

At the end of 2013, the administrators completed the sale of the majority of the company's commercial and residential property assets and the two remaining commercial properties were recently sold or have been agreed for sale.

Last year, JP Retail (NI) had losses of £100,000, an increase on the previous year's loss of £40,000 and the company's latest annual return alluded to an "uncertain economic outlook".

The administration period was initially expected to expire earlier this year. However, PwC sought an extension to give more time to sell off remaining assets - the Carlow and Dundalk stores. The progress report shows the company is estimated to hold property with a net value of over £663,000.

It's understood that the company's bank suffered a "significant shortfall". However, rental income together with the money generated from the sale of the retail business and collection of historic debts, has resulted in money now available to pay a dividend to unsecured creditors.

The administrators recently issued a notice of the intention to pay the dividend, which should be paid by mid-February 2016.

Director John Houston also ran the Irish franchise of European clothing chain Mexx. Earlier this year, the 24 Mexx stores across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland closed after the Dutch clothing brand collapsed.

Belfast Telegraph