Irish stores avoid cull at crisis-hit House of Fraser

By Pádraig Hoare

House of Fraser stores in Dublin and Belfast have escaped the cull that will see 31 of the department chain’s outlets close in Britain with the loss of 6,000 jobs — the latest wound in the UK high street crisis that has seen consumers turn away from traditional shopping.

The firm, which has stores in Dublin’s Dundrum Town Centre as well as Victoria Square in Belfast, said it needed to close 31 stores to survive, in a plan likely to result in as many as 6,000 job losses, making the department store group the latest in a long line of retail casualties in Britain. 

The closures include the group’s flagship shop on Oxford Street and will leave it with just 28 stores across Britain, the North and the Republic.

“These proposals are central to the significant restructuring of the business, without which House of Fraser does not have a viable future,” the group, whose history stretches back to 1849, said in a statement.

Its decline has been rapid, with the £480m (€544m) paid in 2014 by Nanjing Cenbest, part of China’s Sanpower Group, for an 89% stake, looking like a deal from a bygone era.

The planned closures follow last month’s announcement that another Chinese group, retailer C.banner had agreed to become the majority owner with a 51% stake, with Nanjing Cenbest remaining a minority shareholder.

House of Fraser is an important tenant in Dundrum Shopping Centre for property firm Hammerson, which owns Dundrum with Allianz. 

In Belfast, House of Fraser became one of the biggest of its stores when it became the anchor tenant at the £400m (€455m) Victoria Square shopping centre. 

House of Fraser had contacted a number of its landlords in recent months to ask for a reduction in rents.

Many British retailers are shutting shops as they try to survive in the face of competition from online retailers, a squeeze on consumer budgets and a change in Britons’ spending habits away from fashion and towards holidays and entertainment. 

Rival department store group Debenhams downgraded its profit forecast for the second time in months in April, while John Lewis has cautioned on its outlook.

House of Fraser said it filed proposals on Wednesday for company voluntary arrangements (CVA) in the UK courts to allow it to proceed with the restructuring.

The CVA route, which allows firms to avoid insolvency or administration, has already been taken this year by fellow UK retail strugglers including fashion chain New Look, floor coverings group Carpetright, and mother-and-baby goods retailer Mothercare.

additional reporting Reuters

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