Belfast Telegraph

Exhibit staff fury as fashion chain shuts Northern Ireland stores

By John Mulgrew

Around 100 jobs have been lost after clothing chain Exhibit went into administration and shut stores across Northern Ireland.

Staff told the Belfast Telegraph they were left frustrated after recently raising questions about the firm's long-term future.

The Northern Ireland womenswear chain has 14 stores and concessions across Northern Ireland and had been trading under the name Cucco Retail Limited.

It has branches in CastleCourt and the Park Centre in Belfast, along with Fairhill and the Tower Centre in Ballymena.

Exhibit was established in 1983 by Colin and Maurice Rankin, brothers of celebrity chef Paul Rankin.

It blamed the closures on a downturn in trading conditions and a "significant change in consumer spending patterns".

Staff were told on Monday evening that the company had entered administration and stores were shutting.

For years, Exhibit managed to stave off competition from cheap and cheerful rivals such as Primark by offering affordable prices for better-quality clothes.

One worker said her branch had not received new clothing deliveries for three to four weeks.

She also told how she had expressed her concerns to management and had turned down a new job just a day before her employer went into administration.

"My friend was working on Monday, and after around 5.30pm, the owner rang our manager and said we are closed," the worker added.

She said staff at her store were told they would be paid, while others were informed they would have to contact the administrators to make a claim. She had moved to part-time work with the retailer after going back to university in Belfast.

"It was annoying," the employee said. "We had called our area manager during the week and expressed our concerns to her. There had been no deliveries for three or four weeks.

"We had applied for other jobs. I also applied for other jobs, but had to turn them down. They have left staff irritated. Most of my friends are at university and need money to keep on going."

She also told how some staff had been working for the company for several years and said: "I think it was completely hopeless at the end of the day... the way it was conducted. People saw a change in the business."

Exhibit was one of the best-known brand names in Northern Irish fashion, counting celebrities Davina McCall, Christine Bleakley and Nadine Coyle among its customers.

James Neill and Rachel Foster of HNH Group have been appointed joint administrators.

In a statement, they said: "A general downturn in trading conditions, coupled with a significant change in consumer spending patterns over recent times, has significantly impacted on the company's trade and has resulted in the appointment of joint administrators. The appointment highlights the continued difficulties experienced by independent retailers on the high street.

"The joint administrators and their staff are currently undertaking an immediate assessment of the financial position of the company and its assets."

Belfast Telegraph