I was a little dismayed when our local departmental store - the House of Fraser - announced last week that they were planning to close 31 of its 59 premises across the UK and Ireland as part of a rescue plan… not that I ever went shopping there.
House of Fraser said the planned closures come as part of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) - a controversial insolvency procedure in vogue among struggling retailers. The chairman Frank Slevin said the company was facing an ‘existential threat’.
“The retail industry is undergoing fundamental change and House of Fraser urgently needs to adapt to this fast-changing landscape in order to give it a future and allow it to thrive. Our legacy store estate has created an unsustainable cost base, which without restructuring, presents an existential threat to the business. So whilst closing stores is a very difficult decision, especially given the length of relationship House of Fraser has with all its locations, there should be no doubt that it is absolutely necessary if we are to continue to trade and be competitive.”
The chief executive Alex Williamson added “Today’s announcement is one of the most important in this company’s 169-year history. We, as a management team, have a responsibility to take necessary steps to ensure House of Fraser’s survival, which is why we are making these proposals. We are fully committed to supporting those personally affected by the proposals” …which means up to 6,000 House of Fraser and concession staff.
Although I do not know what Frank Slevin’s ‘existential threat’ actually is I know someone who does and she suggested that one of the company’s problems is that they rent many of their properties and these rents have gone up considerably in recent years. In short it is the rent what did it!
So does this mean the end of the four-storey emporium overlooking George Street in Richmond? Will we be denied our very own slightly old fashioned, slightly over priced departmental store - a place to shelter from the rain, sniff the multi-perfumed air and wonder whatever happened to Mrs Slocombe and her pussy? Does this mean that us older gentlemen will no longer be able to visit the excellent loo on the 2nd floor and take our chances going through the ladies’ lingerie department?
Someone who knows says that the Richmond store is actually owned by the company and is not hostage to a landlord with a rent book, so its chances of being closed are slim. This comforting news is supported by a recent press release that lists the stores that are closing as:- Altrincham, Aylesbury, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Camberley, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chichester, Cirencester, Cwmbran, Darlington, Doncaster, Edinburgh Frasers, Epsom, Grimsby, High Wycombe, Hull, Leamington Spa, Lincoln, London Oxford Street, London King William Street, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Shrewsbury, Skipton, Swindon, Telford, Wolverhampton, Worcester.
A helpful video from House of Fraser for male visitors to the 2nd floor on how to tie a Windsor Knot…
– from Martyn Day