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Jack Wills seeks to offload four stores

Lauretta Roberts
25 February 2019

Preppy British fashion chain Jack Wills is seeking to offload four of its 110 stores, and seek cheaper locations for them, in a bid to cut costs.

The Sunday Times reports that the company is looking to assign new tenants for stores in Brighton, Chester and Worcester, while it hopes to sell the lease on its Cheltenham store. The company confirmed to the newspaper that it was not planning to exit the locations altogether.

Jack Wills, which is majority owned by private equity house BlueGem, has had a tumultuous time lately. Its founder Peter Williams was ousted last August, following his second stint at the business he founded in Salcombe in 1999. He had returned to the business in 2015 in partnership with BlueGem (having previously left in 2013), buying it back from long-term investors Inflexion.

Williams was replaced by former Debenhams trading director Suzanne Harlow, who had initially been brought into the business as an adviser by former Debenhams CEO Rob Templeman who had been advising BlueGem.

The company had been rapidly expanding its retail portfolio since Williams' return and its attempts to row back on its stores could prove a challenge. According to one property source who spoke to The Sunday Times, it could be difficult to find new tenants for the stores as prospective new tenants would be reluctant to pay the high rents when there were cheaper, empty alternatives nearby.

Jack Wills had been hit badly by the slump in the value of sterling following the Brexit vote, which pushed up its costs. Harlow is implementing a new sourcing strategy to reduce costs and keep prices competitive.

BlueGem and Italian investor Giorgio Girondi pumped in £20m of emergency funding into the loss-making business in 2018, and in January its lenders called in advisers from EY to examine its finances.

BlueGem also owns London luxury department store Liberty and it was recently reported that it was seeking a buyer for that business, which carries a price-tag of £300m, though it could fetch as much as £350m.

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