Department store chains are having a hard time these days, as shown for example by the recent reorganization of the Karstadt and Galeria Kaufhof chains in Germany after their phased takeover by Signa Retail. Debenhams, the oldest one in the U.K., is now winding up operations and closing all its 124 shops, with 12,000 potential job losses, after JD Sports Fashion ended talks about a possible rescue deal.
Debenhams, which is 232 years old, went into the equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in April. Its administrators have been trying to sell it since then, but have now admitted that the sale process has “not resulted in a deliverable proposal.”
The collapse came within hours of Philip Green’s Arcadia Group – owner of Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge, Burton (not related to Burton Snowboards) and Dorothy Perkins, among other retail operations - entering administration, threatening a further 13,000 jobs. As Arcadia was the biggest holder of concessions in Debenhams stores, its bankruptcy probably triggered JD’s decision to pull out of discussions. JD issued a short statement on Dec. 1 that its talks with Debenhams’ administrators had been “terminated.”
The Debenhams stores will remain open to offload remaining inventories while efforts to find a buyer for all or part of the chain continue, Debenhams confirmed, adding that the deal does not affect its Magasin du Nord department store operation in Denmark, which continues to operate independently. Debenhams started the liquidation of its Irish, Hong Kong and Bangladesh businesses in April.
“Given the current trading environment and the likely prolonged effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the outlook for a restructured operation is highly uncertain,” Debenhams said. “The administrators have therefore regretfully concluded that they should commence a wind-down of Debenhams UK, whilst continuing to seek offers for all or parts of the business.”
Geoff Rowley of FRP Advisory, joint administrator of Debenhams, said: “All reasonable steps were taken to complete a transaction that would secure the future of Debenhams. However, the economic landscape is extremely challenging and, coupled with the uncertainty facing the UK retail industry, a viable deal could not be reached.” He added that the company’s contracts with landlords, suppliers and partners “entered into in the administration period will be met in full.”
As previously reported, JD was apparently interested in Debenhams’ web store, and it was also inclined to keep about half of the chain’s stores in operation. Hilco Capital is standing by in case of a liquidation of Debenhams’ assets. JD had reportedly no interest in rebranding any of its stores, but Marks & Spencer and others were said to be interested in some of the locations.
On the other hand, with JD out of the running, Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which owns Sports Direct as well as the House of Fraser chain of department stores, may re-emerge as a potential buyer for Debenhams or some of its assets, according to analysts.
Ashley built a 30 percent stake in the then-listed Debenhams for £150 million (€165m-$200m), only to see it wiped out last year in a debt restructuring deal with the department store chain’s lenders. He was excluded from the more recent talks for competitive reasons and because he was offering only £125 million (€139m-$165m), well below the requested minimum auction price of £300 million (€330m-$400m).