Job fears at highstreet fashion chain

Over 1,000 jobs are under threat amid reports that fashion retailer Store Twenty One is struggling to meet rent payments at its highstreet stores.

Debt collectors have been called following complaints from landlords and the company has ceased trading from its website today, according to a report in the Telegraph.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

Store Twenty One employs 1,000 staff at more than 200 stores in the UK, primarily on the south coast.

Looking set to become the next highstreet victim of the recession, it is reported that bailiffs were called to a number of stores over the weekend to collect stock, raising fears about unpaid rent, according to The Mail on Sunday.

Restructuring
Store Twenty One, known for selling lingerie designed by the model Katie Price, initially formed in 1932 as a manufacturing business called QS supplying Marks & Spencer and other retailers.

It listed on the stock market in 2002, before being bought in 2007 by Grabal Alok, an Indian textile manufacturer, and rebranded as Store Twenty One.

It is understood that the retailer has sparked the interest of turnaround specialist GA Europe and Hilco, which has acquired the debt of entertainment retailer HMV in order to "urgently assess its financial position".

Highstreet casualties
The fashion retailer is the latest in a long line of casualties suffering from a prolonged sales slump on the highstreet.

Highstreets up and down the country now resemble ghost towns as the empty shops rate reaches a new high of 11.3%. Battling numerous challenges such as a spike business rates – which have risen by over 10% in the last two years – coupled with a drop in footfall due to the recession and the rise in out-of-town retail parks, many retails simply cannot survive such tough conditions.

Urgent action
The British Retail Consortium is calling on local MPs to put help for the highstreets at the top of their agendas for 2013, to prevent further decline and shop closures. The BRC is also requesting the Government to freeze business rates, which are set to rise by 2.6% this year.

New British Retail Consortium Director General, Helen Dickinson said: "MPs understand that high streets are focal points for communities and essential to local economies. But many high streets are facing a real endurance test in these challenging times, and rising operating costs are making matters worse.

"The Autumn Statement didn't include a pledge to freeze business rates next year, but there's still time for the Government to do the right thing. Another steep rise would pose a serious threat to vulnerable town centres and mean fewer jobs, especially for young people."

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High Street casualties
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Job fears at highstreet fashion chain

Administrators sounded the death knell for Woolworths in December 2008, leading to store closures that left 27,000 people out of work. Since its collapse former Woolworths stores have become a blight in many town centres and more than 100 of the large stores still lay vacant in January 2012.

Loyal customers didn't have go without the family favourite store for long however as it reappeared online as Woolworths.co.uk in 2009, after Shop Direct Home Shopping bought out the Woolworths name.

The greetings cards specialist became the latest highstreet casualty in May with 8,000 jobs on the line when it was forced it into administration. Its biggest supplier, American Greetings, then bought Clintons out of administration and put the retailer through a rebrand including a new logo and complete in-store revamps.

Its contemporary format includes new fixtures and fittings and easier to navigate stores, and will be rolled out to all 400 UK stores at the cost of £16million. Bosses aim to bring the brand back to profit within two years.

Poor sales in the run up to Christmas was the final nail in the coffin for several struggling chains, including lingerie retailer La Senza, which went bust in January 2012 with 146 shops and 2,600 staff. Kuwaiti retailer Alshaya bought part of the business, which saved 60 shops and 1,000 staff.

La Senza has been struggling in a similar way to other specialist shops such as Game and Mothercare, which have been hit by cut-price competition at supermarkets and have no alternative products to help shoulder losses.

Stricken retailer Blacks Leisure, which employed 3,600 staff across 98 Blacks stores and 208 Millets stores, went into administration in Janurary 2012 after failing to find an outright buyer.

Soon after its stores were bought by sportswear firm JD Sports in pre-pack deal - an insolvency procedure which sees a company being sold immediately after it has entered administration – which saw most of Blacks' £36 million of debt wiped out.

Fashion chain Bonmarche, which was part of the Peacock Group, was sold in January when the group collapsed due to unsustainable debts, resulting in 1,400 job losses and 160 store closures. Private equity firm Sun European Partners bought 230 stores, which continue to trade with 2,400 staff.

Peacocks collapsed under a £740 million net debt mountain in January 2012 in the biggest retail failure since Woolworths. Despite being sold out of administration to Edinburgh Woollen Mill in a deal that saved 380 stores and 6,000 jobs, administrators from KPMG were forced to close 224 stores with immediate effect. This lead to 3,350 redundancies from stores and Peacocks head office in Cardiff.

The high street name continues trading as bosses work to stabilise the situation, yet a further blow was dealt this month with news that the firm's pension fund is in £15.8 million shortfall as a result of the collapse.

Game buckled under its £85m debt pile in March 2012 and was placed into administration after being unable to pay a £21m rent bill. Administrator PwC immediately closed 277 shops, with the loss of 2,000 jobs. Soon after, investment firm, OpCapita bought 333 Game stores, saving more than 3,000 jobs.

Game's demise followed a string of profit warnings and the failure of nervous suppliers, including leading names Electronic Arts and Nintendo, to go on providing the latest games, further damaging poor sales.

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