The future of Debenhams is hanging in the balance again as its owners fight to avoid complete closure as they try to find a buyer for the struggling business.
At the weekend the 242-year-old department store chain appointed an investment bank to oversee the sale process and hopes to secure a buyer before the end of September. If no buyer can be found then Debenhams faces liquidation.
In the last year Debenhams has closed branches in Eastbourne and Ashford but the Hastings store survived. It avoided closure again as the company announced in May that many stores shut at the start of lockdown would not reopen. It’s understood that landlords have had to reduce the rents that Debenhams are paying to retain the business.
The struggling retail group called in administrators in April, for the second time in a year. The chain has already shut 18 stores this year, with the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in shops and at the headquarters in London. After lease negotiations with landlords, 124 stores – including the store in Hastings that dominates the town centre – are still trading.
“Now that Debenhams has 124 stores in the UK open and is trading ahead of expectations, the administrators of Debenhams Retail Ltd have initiated a process to assess ways for the business to exit its protective administration,” the company said on Sunday.
“There are a range of possible outcomes which could include the current owners retaining the business, potential new joint venture arrangements or a sale to a third party, and the administrators will be guided by what delivers the best outcome for creditors.”
Even before issues surrounding lockdown the Debenhams business was in trouble, struggling to deal with £600m of debt. The department store chain previously went into administration in April 2019 and transferred ownership to a group of financial investors including US hedge funds. Debenhams then underwent a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), an insolvency procedure that allowed it to close stores and renegotiate rents.
Debenhams’ Irish chain has been placed into liquidation, but a liquidation of the main group is said to be unlikely and would only happen once all other options have been exhausted.