Belfast Telegraph

A victim of changing consumer habits and rise of bargain shops

By Ryan Hooper

The House of Fraser name was once a jewel of high streets across the country - a department store steeped in history, which typified style and variety.

But like so many before, it has fallen victim to the rise in discount stores and the shift in consumer habits from physical purchase to online shopping.

The future once looked so bright. A series of marquee acquisitions over a 50-year period in the middle of the 20th century saw the company's portfolio blossom, offering customers an everything-under-one-roof shopping experience.

It was a far cry from its humble beginnings as a small drapery shop in Glasgow in 1849, the brainchild of farmer's son Hugh Fraser and small business owner James Arthur.

The name Arthur & Fraser was born, and could be found on the corner of Argyle Street and Buchanan Street in the Scottish city.

A century later the firm had grown to become a national chain known as House of Fraser.

It would go on to acquire numerous other businesses, from clothes broker Brown Muff & Co in Yorkshire to Dingles drapery shop in Plymouth.

Harrods, too, would become part of the House of Fraser family in the late 1950s. Then, in 1985, the company was bought by Egyptian-born tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed and its profile soared further.

But trouble was afoot.

By January 1997, new chief executive John Coleman delivered on his promise to sell three stores - with the loss of 1,000 jobs - having been hit by a slump in the womenswear market and "poor buying policies".

A slight increase in sales the following year was not enough to drag the company into the black, and House of Fraser would go on to mortgage some retail estates to raise money for store revamps.

A further rise in like-for-like sales at the turn of the millennium gave cause for optimism, new store openings and the creation of hundreds of new jobs.

It would go on to acquire more regional chains, but the company's wheels had started to come off by the time it was bought by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower Group for nearly £500m in 2014.

Finally, after signalling that its future looked bleak, House of Fraser announced that it had fallen into administration, endangering the future of 17,000 staff.

As of June, the group had 59 locations across the UK and Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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