New owner of Bonmarche to close 160 stores with loss of 1,400 jobs

FASHION chain Bonmarche, which was part of collapsed retailer Peacocks Group, was sold today in a deal that will lead to 1,400 job losses and 160 store closures.

Private equity firm Sun European Partners, which also owns the Alexon and Jacques Vert brands, has bought the women’s clothing retailer out of administration in a so-called pre-pack deal for an undisclosed sum.

Sun, which bought the entire chain apart from three stores, has said it will continue to run 230 stores but will close about 160. The store closures mean it will continue to employ about 2,400 of the chain’s 3,800 strong workforce.

The staff in stores set for the axe are being told today and the outlets are expected to shut in the near future. The company said it was too early to release a list of sites to be closed.

Bonmarche store locations in Suffolk and north essex include Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Felixstowe, Sudbury, Haverhill, Colchester, Harwich, Clacton, Braintree and Chelmsford.

Bonmarche, founded in 1982, was part of the Peacocks Group, which last week collapsed into administration under its �750million debt mountain in the biggest retail failure since Woolworths, placing 9,600 jobs in jeopardy.

But whereas administrators at KPMG were called in to take charge of the Peacocks chain, Bonmarche was kept out of administration to allow sale talks to continue.

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Pre-pack deals, where a chain is placed into administration and immediately bought in a previously-arranged deal, are controversial because they allow the new buyers to take on the chain but write off many of its debts.

The deal means the Bonmarche name will survive on the high street, albeit with fewer stores. The chain is one of the UK’s largest women’s-only value retailers and sells affordable clothing in a wide range of sizes to women over 45 years old.

Chris Laverty, joint administrator at KPMG, said: “Given the hostile conditions on the high street, we’re pleased to have concluded a sale with Sun European Partners. The deal is a positive step forward in underscoring Bonmarche’s future.”

Sun European Partners, which is ultimately based in the US, will also take on Bonmarche’s head office in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Its vice-president, Matthias Gundlach, said it was working with current management to put “a sustainable growth programme” in place.

He added: “Bonmarche is a great brand that operates in an attractive niche of the apparel sector that we know very well.

“Thanks to its strong range with a good value-for-money proposition and a unique in-store service experience, Bonmarche has a loyal customer base of regular repeat buyers.”

The sale of Bonmarche will free administrators to look for a buyer for the Peacocks chain, which has 563 stores and 48 concessions.

It is understood that numerous private equity firms including Sun and clothing firm Edinburgh Woollen Mill are interested in buying the chain, while Tesco is reported to be interested in some of its stores.

Private equity firm Op Capita, which is in the process of buying Comet from Kesa Electricals, is also expected to assess Peacocks’ potential.

A total of 50 firms are thought to have registered an interest and initial bids are expected by the end of the month.

The administrators, who have kept the stores open while they seek a buyer, last week made 249 staff at its head office in Cardiff redundant, nearly half the workforce.