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Administration woes puts shoe shops at risk

Nearly 20 shoe shops across Northern Ireland could risk closure after the owner of Barratts and Priceless Shoes became the latest victim of the squeeze on the high street.

The chains have nine shops each in locations like Belfast, Londonderry and Ballymena.

Overall, around 4,000 jobs are under threat after Bradford-based chain Barratts Priceless, which has 191 stores in the UK, collapsed into administration for the second time.

Michael Ziff, chairman of Barratts Priceless parent company, Stylo, bought 160 shops from Deloitte after the chains were put into administration in 2009.

At the time, Deloitte closed 220 stores, but Mr Ziff was able to safeguard around 3,000 jobs.

Part of the failure has been blamed on unseasonably mild weather in recent weeks - which has meant less consumer spend on winter ranges like boots - which has exacerbated already difficult trading conditions. Administrator, Deloitte, said it will continue to trade the stores while it seeks a buyer for all or parts of the business. It said that it was unable to say as yet how many jobs may be lost in Northern Ireland.

Deloitte restructuring partner, Daniel Butters, said that Barratts and Priceless Shoes have faced a downturn in trading in recent times.

Donald McFetridge, retail analyst at the University of Ulster, said that the brand had lost its way. "The product mix is wrong, the price point is wrong and there was a mismatch between price and quality," he said.

"In order for Barratts and Priceless to survive, there needs to be store closures, rationalisation and streamlining."

Barratts joins a list of retail failures this year that includes TJ Hughes, Jane Norman, and Blacks Leisure, which owns the Millets chain.

Barratts had revenues of £218m in the 18 months to July 31, 2010 and a pre-tax profit of £6.1m, according to the latest accounts.