2020 Business Review – Part One
Whether you’re in hospitality, retail, education, construction or any other sector – there has been a significant impact on your business and on the lives of your staff and customers.
Not every change of routine and behaviour will prove to be permanent once mass vaccinations roll out in 2021 but a lot may stick so in many ways 2020 will be a key “before and after” moment for many of us.
So much has happened this year that before the lookahead to 2021 begins in earnest, we’d take a final look at what 2020 did to various companies.
In January the first major retail casualty of the year was Beales.
The department store with its largest locations in Bournemouth, Southport and Wolverhampton went into administration with mounting and unserviceable debts.
The 139-year-old business employed around 1,000 staff and despite great efforts from administrators, all outlets ceased trading in March.
The other big name to go into administration was the gift and toy chain Hawkins Bazaar.
After a weak Christmas trading period, it closed all of its 20 physical locations and eventually became an online-only retailer for the first time in its 40 year history.
February saw bespoke online bathroom retailer Soak.com collapse after turnover nearly halved in the previous year. The closure saw the loss of 200 positions with the midlands based company.
March saw the first national UK lockdown announced as everybody began to realise that Spring 2020 would not be like the usual season.
Laura Ashley, one of the UK’s most iconic brands went into administration in March with the closure of 70 stores and 1,500 staff placed on furlough. The brand was bought out in April by a US-based restructuring company called Gordon Brothers who are relaunching the pastel print specialists range in a deal with Next in Spring 2021 which will see their homeware products on sale across the country once more.
Regional airline carrier Flybe found itself grounded for good this month, entering administration as a result of significant funding challenges.
The collapse of both domestic commuting and the holiday market in 2020 was insurmountable for a company that had been purchased for only £2.2 million less than a year previously.
The UK’s largest rent-to-own high street retailer BrightHouse called in administrators in this month with the loss of 2,400 employees. The chain had announced plans to close 30 of its 240 locations the month before but this measure proved to be too little, too late.
Despite the closure, the store’s existing 200,000 customers still had to keep making payments on their agreements as administrators looked to sell them on or run down the lending book.
Women’s fashion brand Autonomy went into administration losing 44 positions, three standalone stores in Staffordshire, Devon and Scotland and 100 further concessions in other stores across the UK.
Online furniture Lombok also folded in March despite two previous pre-pack administrations.
Cracks in the UK’s high street retail portfolio became chasms in April when Debenhams announced that it was formally entering administration for the second time within 12 months.
Many of the 142 stores already closed by the Covid-19 lockdown wouldn’t reopen as administrators looked to create a plausible deal for the stricken department store. 22,000 staff still were placed on furlough bringing them some respite but the year would end on a bleak note for them and the business.
Fashion outfitters Oasis and Warehouse both announced that they would not be reopening after lockdown after their owners announced they were unable to find a buyer.
The brands were eventually sold to a restructuring business which included stock and online rights but not the 92 physical stores of the 437 concessions.
Chief Executive Hash Ladha said: “We as a management team have done everything we can to try and save the iconic brands that we love. This is a situation that none of us could have predicted a month ago, and comes as shocking and difficult news for all of us.”
Vintage fashion chain Cath Kidston also announced that none of its UK stores would reopen when lockdown was eventually lifted.
The owners eventually secured a deal to buy back the brand and its online operations but again, did not include the bricks and mortar shops as part of the deal which saw 900 jobs go as a result of the move into 100% digital commerce.
M&CO, the value clothing retailer previously called Mackays, went into administration briefly before being bought out by its previous owners as part of a pre-pack deal.
In August, the chain would confirm that as part of the new deal it would have to close 47 stores with the loss of 381 jobs but it will continue to operate the remaining 218.
May saw two footwear names encounter some choppy waters.
The UK arm of Canadian chain Aldo went into administration closing five stores immediately before being bought out by an investment group. Johnson’s Shoes also trading as Bowleys Fine Shoes was also in administration until bought out by retailer Daniel Footwear. Six of the group’s 12 stores would reopen, saving 66 posts out of 145.
Luxury luggage retailer Antler also went into administration where it still remains albeit trading online.
The 106-year-old business closed its 18 retail stores and one concession with 164 redundancies. A spokesperson said: “Although the business was trading well prior to the virus outbreak, restrictions imposed at the start of the lockdown period prompted the closure of Antler’s retail and wholesale outlets, while the impact on international travel has also significantly affected sales.
‘With uncertainty over the lifting of travel restrictions placing further financial strain on the business, the directors concluded that they had no option but to appoint administrators.”
June brought some welcome warm weather but also some unwelcome hot news for some of our best known retailers
Monsoon Accessorize went into administration in June – although a rescue deal with its founder Peter Simon saw it continue to live another day albeit in slightly different format.
35 Monsoon stores closed leaving 10 out of the group’s portfolio operating as that brand. The rest transitioned to becoming Accessorize stores once landlords agreed to new turnover-based rent agreements as part of the administration deal.
Mr Simon said: “Our intention is that there will be fewer Monsoon stores because we are going to be mainly an online brand. We have had great landlord support which is why we’re able to keep more stores open.
“There isn’t really a direct competitor to Accessorize. It’s a lower price, has a wider appeal at airports and travel locations. It’s very versatile and really successful.”
Clothing retailer Quiz went into administration closing 82 standalone stores although they are also hoping to strike a deal with landlords on ongoing rent reductions.
The UK’s largest retailer of oak furniture, Oak Furnitureland, had a bleak lookout until it was brought out of administration securing just under 1,500 jobs as was Bensons Beds although sister company Harveys for Furniture, the UK’s second-largest retailer, remains in administration with 20 stores closed with the loss of 240 positions as a result.
120-year-old shirt and tie retailer T M Lewin was sold as part of a pre-pack administration which saw the loss of 600 positions and the closure of all physical stores. New owners Torque said: “The team has worked to assess all available avenues for the business model going forwards, but having done so has formed the view that T M Lewin was no longer a viable going concern in its current format.”
Historic high-end Midlands furniture retailer Lee Longlands also went into administration to “protect the retailer” and will continue to trade while seeking a buyer for the 118-year-old business.
Go Outdoors was in administration before being bought out by JD Sports although it said it would embark on a major restructuring of the business in order to retain the majority of its retail stores and staff.
Le Pain Quotidien bakery chain was also brought in a pre-pack administration deal although 11 of its 26 outlets closed with 200 positions. The new owners began negotiations with landlords on reduced terms for the remaining 16 properties.
A spokesperson for the new owners said: “Le Pain Quotidien has become much more focused on being a bakery again rather than a restaurant.
“We’ve completely renewed our bread, pastry and patisserie range, which has given strong results so far. Other core areas like our coffee offer and bakery layouts are giving encouraging results.”
Norwich-based book wholesalers Bertram Books, which began life in 1968 in a chicken shed before growing to a 450-strong staff went into administration with the majority being made redundant.
Victoria’s Secret had built a business on the promise of being able to pop in for a cheeky bargain, which is what Next did when they brought the lingerie retailer out of administration.
Watch out for Part Two soon!