HUNDREDS of jobs across the Lothians are under threat after beleaguered high-street department chain BHS filed for administration.
The collapse is the biggest retail failure since Woolworths folded in 2008 with the loss of around 30,000 jobs. BHS has a flagship store in Princes Street, as well as branches at Ocean Terminal, Cameron Toll and at The Centre in Livingston.
One of the assistants told me she had only been taken on two weeks ago and is devastated.Derek Cull
The company’s owner, Dominic Chappell, said “no-one was to blame” for the situation and that he was working with the administrators to “find a solution post the administration”.
Administrators Duff & Phelps said the group, with 11,000 staff across the UK, would continue to “trade as usual” until a buyer is found.
Some shoppers at the Princes Street branch yesterday told of their disappointment, while others admitted they weren’t surprised.
Mona Browning, 61, from North Berwick, said: “I like all of BHS and have been going there since I was a child. The variety is really good.
“But I don’t think it caters for the young ones aged about 18-20. My daughters would not be seen there.”
Derek Cull, 62, from Blackhall, said: “I’m not surprised it is in trouble. Some of the clothes are quite out of fashion.
“One of the assistants told me she had only been taken on two weeks ago and is devastated.”
Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute, said BHS had been edged out by other brands in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
He said: “Retail is about brands and there are cycles. BHS unfortunately appears to be in decline. The reasons are complicated but there is increased competition from other brands. Primark and H&M have in a sense stolen BHS’s clothes.”
And Mr Birse believes that should BHS shut down its Princes Street store, the landmark building would soon be snapped up by another retailer.
He said: “The property itself and its location are sufficiently big to be of interest to other retailers. Modern retailers do require that large-scale, open-plan space to operate.
“From the point of view of retail in that location, this is not the end of the story.
“These types of retailer will want to look at Princes Street. It’s not just that it’s city centre, but there is a considerable transient population over the summer, when footfall and spend increases significantly. When the St James Quarter opens there will be a centre of gravity in retail that moves towards the east end of Princes Street, which includes this site.”
BHS was bought last year by consortium Retail Acquisitions, headed by Mr Chappell, for £1 from retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green.
BHS has debts of more than £1.3 billion, including a pension fund deficit of £571 million, which proved a major stumbling block in last-ditch rescue talks over the weekend.
Rival retailer Sports Direct is understood to want to take on some of the stores, but only if it does not have to take on its pension deficit.