Ben Sherman owner plans store closures to avoid collapse

The owner of menswear retailer Ben Sherman has entered last-resort negotiations with creditors with a plan to close more than a third of its stores and renegotiate rent with remaining landlords.

Baird Group, which also owns brands such as Suit Direct and Jeff Banks, on Thursday filed for a so-called company voluntary agreement, an insolvency proceeding that allows businesses to renegotiate debts with creditors while they continue trading.

The Leeds-based company has been hit particularly badly by insolvency and closures at department store chain Debenhams, through which it runs 87 concessions, making up 60 per cent of outlets at third-party retailers.

Baird Group is seeking to close 18 lossmaking independent stores and lay off 264 members of retail and distribution staff — roughly a third of its workforce — most of whom work in the Debenhams concessions.

The three-month lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, now largely lifted for non-food retailers, brought many already struggling high-street retailers to their knees.

People working in retail have borne the brunt of job losses in the wake of the pandemic, with chemists Boots and department store chain John Lewis announcing more than 5,000 job cuts earlier this month.

Mark Cotter, Baird’s chief executive, said the group faced “extraordinary circumstances [ . . .] as a result of the global pandemic, coupled with the challenges presented to our business by the administration of Debenhams”.

He said the company would refocus on its largest retail outlets of Ben Sherman and Suit Direct and further expand its online presence in a restructuring that would “create a solid platform for a successful and sustainable business for many years to come”.

The plan requires the approval of at least 75 per cent of the group’s creditors and a vote is scheduled for August 10. 

Howard Smith, associate partner at KPMG and proposed joint supervisor of the CVA, said Baird Group’s heavy reliance on concession partners, “a subsector of retail which has seen a high level of insolvencies in recent years”, had contributed to its troubles. 

During the lockdown, the group was forced to shut all of its 47 stores. Ten of its shops have remained closed after restrictions on retailers were lifted last month.

Baird Group is owned by Egyptian garment manufacturer and retailer Arafa Holding.


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