“World’s oldest department store” Bennetts saved from collapse

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Bennetts
// Administration process for Bennetts has concluded
// Derby branch has been saved and will remain open; 22 jobs saved
// Ashbourne store has closed down; 17 jobs lost
// Bennetts, dubbed the world’s oldest department store, entered administration in February

Bennetts, the British retailer regarded as the world’s oldest department store, has been bought out of administration and saved from complete collapse.

Joint administrators from Bridgewood confirmed that a deal has been agreed with a buyer to acquire Bennetts’ Derby branch for an undisclosed sum.

Bridgewood said details of the buyer will be revealed as soon as the sale completes, which both parties expect to be before the end of April.

However, Bennetts’ Ashbourne branch was not included in the deal and the store has closed down. Its last trading day was April 13.

Bridgewood told Retail Gazette that around 22 jobs were saved at Derby, while roughly 17 jobs were lost as a result of the Ashbourne closure.

“We are very pleased to have achieved a sale in principle, which will ensure the iconic Bennetts brand continues to have a strong presence on Iron Gate,” joint administrator Paul Mallatratt said.

“We are confident that the proposed purchaser, who has existing retail operations in the South of England, will be able to revive the store whilst also preserving everything that is loved about the Bennetts brand.”

In relation to the Ashbourne store, Mallatratt said: “Disappointingly it has not been possible to secure a buyer for the Ashbourne store.

“We would like to express our sincere thanks to all staff in Ashbourne who, throughout the period of the trading administration, have conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism.”

Bennetts, which first opened its doors in Derby’s Cathedral Quarter in 1734, called in administrators in early February after being hit by weakening consumer confidence, online competition and growing costs.

The administrators at the time said the heritage department store’s loyal customer base had not been enough to keep it going during a “very challenging” period on the UK high street.

By March, they said they had received “significant” levels of interest from potential buyers.

Fashion retailer Young Ideas launched an online fundraising campaign on GoFundMe that featured a detailed plan to save the historic retailer – but this was suspended by the crowdfunding platform over a “technicality”.

When Retail Gazette last checked the GoFundMe page late in early March, just over £10,500 had been raised in the space of 10 days since it was launched.

This was only a fraction of the £450,000 goal that Young Ideas – which has a concession with Bennetts – needed to achieve in order to save the 285-year old business.

The Retail Gazette understands that one of the expressions of interests that Bridgewood received for Bennetts during the administration process was linked to Young Idea’s GoFundMe campaign.

Before its campaign was suspended, Young Ideas had detailed a turnaround plan for Bennetts and said it was prepared to invest in the department store with the support of local stakeholders.

It stated that anyone who invested through the crowdfunding page would become a shareholder and would receive an annual dividend payment, along with other benefits.

Young Ideas also said that if its rescue plan were successful, it would retain staff and create jobs as well as turn Bennetts into a “mini John Lewis”.

However, under Financial Services Authority guidelines, GoFundMe is not regulated for investments. It is only a platform for donations.

Young Ideas stressed that anyone who pledged money to its campaign would have their investment returned “in full” if it ended up being unsuccessful.

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