Closing Down sale posters go up at Woollen Mill shops

Closing Down poster at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop in George Street, Oban

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The future of Edinburgh Woollen Mill shops in Oban, Fort William and Spean Bridge hangs in the balance.

Staff across the group were notified on Friday of its plans to go into administration unless a rescue solution can be found within 10 days.

The UK’s largest clothing retailer has a pair of shops in George Street and an outlet at McCaig’s Warehouse at the Heritage Centre.

Its George Street shop and the outlet at McCaig’s Warehouse both remain open but have prominent ‘Closing Down’ posters on display.

Calls were referred to head office with a member of staff saying: ‘We have as much information as everybody else’.

The Chalmers unit in the Argyll Mansions building has never reopened since lockdown.

It may yet prove that Edinburgh Woollen Mill consolidates its premises onto a single site in Oban – although the company has not publicly revealed any plans.

Business leader Andy Spence, of BID4Oban, said: ‘Obviously we are very concerned for the staff and for the Edinburgh Woollen Mill operation.

‘We are all keeping our fingers crossed that these busy stores in Oban remain viable within the Edinburgh Woollen Mill estate.’

He added: ‘It would be a huge loss to the town if they did disappear because on the surface they were popular and looked to be a viable business.’

Long before the coronavirus, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill warned in its annual report of March 2019 of ‘extremely challenging trading conditions in the UK’.

This was due to the surge in online shopping and reduced footfall in town centres.

Bosses have now admitted that a combination of lockdown and then further local lockdowns had meant ‘normal trading’ had become ‘impossible’.

Edinburgh Woollen Mill depended on the international overseas visitor market which had collapsed this year because of the pandemic.

Furthermore, loyal customers from the visiting coach tours market had also taken a huge hit this year too.

Mr Spence added that despite times being ‘tough’ on the high street, new businesses are opening in Oban and existing businesses taking on larger properties to expand.

The town had been ‘busy’ as schools in Scotland had half term and the mood among the business community remained one of ‘adapting’ to the crisis, said Mr Spence.

In terms of the EWM, it has filed ‘a notice of intent’ with the High Court to appoint administrators.

Papers have been lodged which effectively buy it 10-days of time before creditors can swoop.

It is now in urgent talks with business experts to ‘review’ its future.

EWM has called in FRP Advisory, which specialise in corporate finance, debt, restructuring and pensions, but can also act as insolvency practitioners.

It puts the future of hundreds of stores and outlets in doubt in a group headed by Switzerland-based billionaire Philip Day.

The group includes subsidiaries such as Jaeger, Ponden Home, and Peacocks.

EWM chief executive Steve Simpson said in a statement that the group had a duty to find ‘the very best solution’ in the current ‘brutal environment’.

Stores will continue trading and further details will be announced, it said.

The statement read: ‘Like every retailer, we have found the past seven months extremely difficult.

‘This situation has grown worse in recent weeks as we have had to deal with a series of false rumours about our payments and trading which have impacted our credit insurance.

‘Traditionally, EWM has always traded with strong cash reserves and a conservative balance sheet but these stories and the reduction in credit insurance – against the backdrop of the initial lockdown, current local lockdowns, and the second wave of Covid-19 reducing footfall have made normal trading impossible.

‘As directors, we have a duty to the business, our staff, our customers and our creditors to find the very best solution in this brutal environment.

‘We have applied to court for a short breathing space to assess our options before moving to appoint administrators.

‘Through this process I hope and believe we will be able to secure the best future for our businesses, but there will inevitably be significant cuts and closures as we work our way through this.

‘I would like to thank all our staff for their amazing efforts during this time and also our customers who have remained so loyal and committed to our brands.’

A spokesman for business experts FRP said: ‘Our team is working with the directors of a number of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group subsidiaries to explore all options for the future of its retail brands Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Jaeger, Ponden Home, and Peacocks.’

The shop on George Street
The notice at Chalmers