Department store slips further into the red as losses double

Nusrat Ghani

Fenwick has a number of department stores across the UK, including the Tunbridge Wells RVP branch, a Bond Street site as well as its original Newcastle store.  

During the pandemic the upmarket chain was forced to close shops and write down their value as footfall plummeted. Sales for the year to the end of January halved from £323.7million to £140.5million, Fenwick said last week, while pre-tax losses have more than doubled from £47million to £112million. 

The 139-year-old chain, owned by the Fenwick family, had to shut its nine shops during lockdown, including its largest Bond Street store, which closed for the first time in its history despite having operated throughout the blitz. 

The department store had been struggling even before the pandemic hit the UK. It had reported a £49million loss in January 2020 – before the pandemic struck – and as soon as the Covid crisis hit, the group put in place a two-year secured borrowing facility as a contingency. 

Since then, Fenwick has claimed £9million in furlough support and £8.7million in business rates relief to offset some of the damage from the pandemic, as well as cutting costs by making 300 redundancies. Footfall levels have also yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

The Covid crisis saw Debenhams collapse and John Lewis close a number of outlets, including pulling out of Tunbridge Wells.  

Fenwick has insisted that despite its struggles the family business is ‘not up for sale’, according to its chief executive John Edgar, although there were talks with an overseas buyer before the Covid crisis. 

Mr Edgar, 50, who was brought in last year by the chain’s owners, said the reason Fenwick had not weathered the pandemic very well was that its online business had been ‘fledgling and tiny’ and had been shut down entirely at the start of the crisis by the previous management, which included the former Co-op boss Richard Pennycook. 

Mr Edgar, who came to the group from Selfridges and Harrods, said that about 80 per cent of Fenwick’s ranges were now sold online and that he wanted its ecommerce business to represent a fifth of group revenues. 

He said department stores could offer a range as broad as online rivals as they ‘are the original marketplaces’. 

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