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Future of Beales Department Store in jeopardy as review begins

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A 138-year-old department store chain with a shop in Diss, as well as others across East Anglia, could be putting itself up for sale as it struggles on the high street.

Beales Department Store, in Market Place, could be one of the chain’s 22 outlets at risk of closure after the Bournemouth-based group confirmed it could launch a sale process as part of its strategic and financial review from advisory firm KPMG, which was brought in to look at its financial position.

Beales, which was founded in 1881 by John Elmes Beale, employs around 1,300 staff and another 300 working in branded concessions in its shops.

Beales has been a brand on UK high streets since 1881 and has 22 stores currently in operation. Picture by Mecha Morton.
Beales has been a brand on UK high streets since 1881 and has 22 stores currently in operation. Picture by Mecha Morton.

Options in its review could also include asking owners of the company’s premises for rent reductions to combat current tough retail conditions.

As well as the shop in Diss, the company has branches in Beccles and owns the Palmers department store in Great Yarmouth, having closed a similar outlet in Lowestoft in January.

Tony Brown, who has had held senior posts at well-known brands such as Peacocks and BHS, led a management buyout of the business in October last year and is said to be hoping that a refinancing process can be finalised in early 2020.

Beales did revamp its range in early 2019, a move which is said to have resulted in significant sales improvements, while a new format store opened in Fareham, Hampshire, at the start of November, which has also shown early success.

These and other options could help the struggling brand, which is looking for investment to deliver what it calls “a sustainable business model for the future”. Bosses are said to favour a shift to focussing on homewares, small domestic appliances, fashion accessories and shoes.

The business, which sells brands including Hobbs, Phase Eight and Tommy Hilfiger, has had several private investors since it was delisted as a public company in 2015 and did secure a company voluntary arrangement with creditors in 2016 for rent reductions at 11 of its then 29 stores.

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