Bonmarché: What went wrong?

Parkash Singh Chima founded Bonmarché in 1982 to “ensure mature women feel fabulous about themselves, in good quality, affordable, stylish clothing”. The retailer collapsed into administration last week, putting almost 3000 jobs at risk. Retail Gazette discovers what went wrong..

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Bonmarché Philip Day Edinburgh Woollen Mill administration Parkash Singh Chima Helen Connolly
Bonmarche collapsed into administration last week, putting around 2900 jobs at risk

A BRIEF TIMELINE

1950: Parkash Singh Chima and his family arrive in the UK from India to settle in Cambridgeshire.

1982: Chima begins selling clothing from market stalls. Chima soon buys fashion retailers Wiltex and Hartley, which had 26 indoor market locations across the north of England.

Chima eventually launches Bonmarché to “ensure mature women feel fabulous about themselves, in good quality, affordable, stylish clothing”. He moves to Huddersfield and rus the business with his sons Gurchait and Gurnaik.

1985: The first Bonmarché store opens in Doncaster.

1999: Bonmarché teams up with cancer charity Macmillan to help raise funds.

2002: Bonmarché has a portfolio of over 200 stores across the UK. The family-owned business is sold to the Peacocks Group for £51.3 million.


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2007: Bonmarché launches a collection with David Emanuel, the designer most famous for co-designing the Princess Diana’s wedding dress in 1981.

2010: Founder Parkash Singh Chima dies after collapsing at Huddersfield’s Sikh Leisure Centre.

2011: Reports emerge that Peacocks wants to sell Bonmarché.

2012: In January, Peacocks goes into administration after having tried unsuccessfully to restructure its £240 million debts.

Bonmarché was subsequently sold to US private equity group Sun European Partners for an undisclosed sum. Sun European Partners says it will continue to run Bonmarché 230 stores but will close about 160.

Bonmarché records sales of £147 million with underlying profits of £9.1 million in the year to the end of March.

2013: In April, Bonmarché was heavily criticised for being one of the retailers to occupy a space in a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which collapsed due to a structural failure and resulted in the deaths of 1134 factory workers. It was the deadliest garment-factory disaster in history.

In October, Bonmarché announces stock market flotation plans. Sun European Partners were expected to sell around £50 million of shares, giving Bonmarché a market value of £130 million.

In November, Bonmarché attends meetings regarding the Dhaka garment factory collapse to agree a proposal on compensation to the victims.

2018: Bonmarché reports 45 per cent frop in pre-tax profits to £2.3 million in the half-year to September 29, while revenue nudges up to £97.9 million from £97.8 million.

JANUARY 2019: In January, Bonmarché posts sales plunge from the Christmas period. In the 13 weeks to December 29, like-for-like store sales decline 11.1 per cent, while total sales year-on-year fall 8.1 per cent.

MARCH 2019: Bonmarche issues its third profit warning in just six months, saying it would suffer a bigger loss than anticipated.

Bonmarché Philip Day Edinburgh Woollen Mill administration Parkash Singh Chima Helen Connolly
Bonmarche initially rebuffed Philip Day’s £5.7 million takeover offer, saying it “materially undervalues” the retailer

APRIL 2019: Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group’s owner Philip Day launches takeover offer after buying 26 million shares in Bonmarche, increasing his stake in the firm to over 52.4 per cent.

City rules stipulates that when a shareholder’s stake goes above the 30 per cent threshold, a full takeover offer must be made.

Day says he will aim to do a “store-by-store profitability assessment” which will see underperforming shops close down.

However, Bonmarche rebuffs Day’s £5.7 million takeover offer, saying it “materially undervalues” the retailer and urges shareholders to reject it in May. Day responds by saying he will keep open his takeover offer “until further notice”.

Bonmarché’s board of directors eventually warm up to Day’s offer following poor trading in the first quarter, saying the £5.7 million offer seemed “more attractive”.

JUNE 2019: Day’s holding company Spectre says it will close its offer because the future of Bonmarche remained uncertain. He sets a deadline of July 12.


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JULY 2019: As the deadline approached, Day was on track to delist Bonmarche and make it private after the retailer’s last major shareholder sold its stake in the company. Artemis Investment Management held a stake of over 12 per cent in Bonmarche.

Day’s stake in Bonmarche quickly to 93 per cent, well above the required 75 per cent threshold to take it private, and the delisting process was triggered on July 15. It was estimated that the process would be complete by mid-August at the latest.

OCTOBER: 2019: Bonmarche collapses into administration, putting around 2900 jobs at risk. Specialist advisory firm FRP appointed as administrators FRP says Bonmarche would continue to trade with no immediate job losses or store closures, as it assesses options to secure its future and search for a buyer.

Bonmarche chief executive Helen Connolly says the retailer had examined other options to stay afloat, including refinancing or a possible CVA.

The administration is also a first for Philip Day, who has built a track record of successfully turning around distressed companies after acquiring them.

At the time of writing, Bonmarche employed 2887 staff, including 200 at its head office, and operates 318 stores across the UK.


THE REASONS

Bonmarche first opened with a goal to “ensure mature women feel fabulous about themselves, in good quality, affordable, stylish clothing”, though that eventually fell out of style.

The retailer has struggled with enhancing the customer experience. While some retailers are launching campaigns to promote inclusivity and others are offering personalisation, Bonmarche has fallen back by not making customer experience the focal point of every process.

External factors such as the increase in business rates, increased staffing costs, cost of goods and Brexit uncertainty have also led to decline.

Nick Burchett, a fund manager at Cavendish Asset Management, said Bonmarche’s first struggles came to light after Black Friday last year.

“While they weren’t the only casualties, it was clear the business had the wrong offering, the wrong locations and poor brand development,” he told Retail Gazette.

“Bonmarche faced the same challenges as everyone else on the high street, but it was too slow to adapt”

“Bonmarche faced the same challenges as everyone else on the high street, but it was too slow to adapt.

“The online presence was growing but unfortunately not fast enough. They needed more routes to market and without this they relied too much on their store presence which, as we’ve seen with the likes of House of Fraser and Debenhams, leaves you vulnerable to high rents and costly business rates.”

Nicky Stewart, a partner at law firm Howard Kennedy, said Bonmarche “was a retailer waiting to fail”.

“With the high street facing some of the toughest trading conditions in recent years, the business was not able to adapt and weather the storm,” she told Retail Gazette.

“The chief executive recognised that ‘the model simply does not work’ in today’s climate.

“Shoppers of every age are looking for more of an experience to attract them to stores and increase dwell time and Bonmarché stores lacked anything new, bold or different. The concept (or distinct lack of one) failed to deliver.

“Whilst Bonmarché’s target audience may not be overly concerned by its lack of social media presence, that market would be swayed by a better online offering and more of a value proposition or compelling product.

Bonmarché Philip Day Edinburgh Woollen Mill administration Parkash Singh Chima Helen Connolly
Bonmarche first set out to “ensure mature women feel fabulous about themselves, in good quality, affordable, stylish clothing” but this was quickly lost

“Whilst the administrators are looking to sell the business as a going concern it is hard to see how it can sustain a future without significant change and a reduction in store numbers.”

Meanwhile Laura Morroll, senior manager of tech consulting firm BearingPoint, believes the most successful retailers are the ones who “have undergone fundamental operating model changes to ensure they can still be profitable”.

“Successful retailers are the ones who have undergone fundamental operating model changes”

“Competition becomes more fierce as online channel volumes grow, raw material prices rise, and property costs increase,” she said.

Morroll added that “understanding a retailer’s customer demographic is essential to determining a brand and operating model investment decisions”.

“The over-50s Bonmarché customer may not be that digitally savvy, but are certainly subject to the same reduced discretionary spending, falling consumer confidence and rising competition as other customer segments,” she said.

“The reality is that the 50-plus aged customer is likely to be more loyal to brand than younger consumers provided that their retailer of choice continues to offer them good quality and meets their perception of what great value looks like.”

There’s no doubt that external factors such as increased business rates have affected Bonmarche, but as its administrators search for a new buyer, the retailer will have to convince potential buyers that it still has a place on the UK’s high streets.

While Bonmarche has struggled to retain a loyal customer base, its core over-50s market is now tightening purse strings thanks to political and economical uncertainty.

If anything, Bonmarche may have to tweak its business model to appeal to a wider range of consumers, rather than exclusively engage with its long-established customer base.

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61 COMMENTS

  1. I have been a customer for a long time and while in the past have purchased many great items, now the sizing is very different and not at all consistent, most of the tops offered now are far to big round the necklines with venecks in particular and slash necks also being so unflattering and loose fitting and much too low, I don’t know who they are supposed to be aimed at certainly not the descerning ladies who used to be loyal customers of the stores in the past, the buyers and designers need to ask what the customer wants and needs from them, not what they think they want according to their ideas, now I am a high street size 12 to 14 in most shops but I have to buy a size 18 to fit my body in Bonmarsh, this means things like the neck lines and sleeve lengths are not in proportion for me, are they simply skimping on fabric or what, no wonder they are in trouble as a company.

    • I agree entirely with Lynn, sizes have changed, ladies in the more mature age group still want to look trendy but we don’t want to try and compete with 20yr olds. Nice comfortable up to date styles in good colours is all we ask

  2. Bonmarche is not fast fashion food and that is why it does not fit into the trend of online stores that mainly cheat customers and profit from the poor quality of goods they advertise with fraudulent photoshop

  3. from an internal perspective, it is widely believed that when Helen Connolly took over she ran the business into the ground after she decided that the company was going in a new younger direction. Almost all of the most popular products in store no longer fit in her vision of the business and removed from the product list. Then she pumped money into things such as hht scanners for all the stores that were overtly expensive and have never worked along with alot of her other initiatives…. it is appaling to know that she will just walk into another job when the other nearly 3000 people in the company are panicking about whether they will even be able to keep a roof over their heads over Christmas.

    • Bon Marche for me is the best. Their clothing for the mature women or women of a fuller figure fit really well better than the well known high street stores. Over the past 12 months their clothing has become more and more very fashionable and trendy. I get lots of nice compliments at work every time I wear a Bon Marche top or blouse, jeans, jacket I could go on. I just think Bon Marche need to advertise their business more to help attract more customers. I can’t fault their clothing at all. Bon Marche please don’t give up fight to stay alive. Lodes of us women need you. This country has and is losing so many good shops and if this trend continues eventually there will be nothing left.

    • Yes a concern for cotton tshirts is high… along with the concern for how staff will pay their bills. Get some perspective woman

  4. I love bonmarch its the best store to get equality clothes and at a reasonable price I buy all my clothes from there Summer and Winter and always get compliments about my clothes I would be lost with out Bonmarch and its staff they are all helpfull Also great service on line or yiu can order in store if they dont have your size in a particular item Please dont close stores as i am not the only one that would miss it terribly

  5. Buy a lot of things from store and online
    There is always a lot of choice and you can find sonething for all occasions. Will be sad to see store closure.

  6. Can’t be with out bonmarche. It’s my second home..All my clothes come from this shop I’m 70 plus..Love the styles colours and layout of the store and always friendly staff..I really hope the store is saved. Myself and my friend visit at least once a week and always manage to find something new.

  7. I agree totally with Joe. Bon Marche lost its direction a long time ago when suddenly smaller sizes were introduced and everything became “trendy”. I used to buy a lot of clothes there but no longer find the size I require easily or the style of clothes I like. Such a shame, they should not have tried to be all things to all people,” if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

  8. I agree with Beth Cannings, the quality of the materials has suffered as Bon Marche tried to keep their prices low. However, I bought my clothes at Bon Marche for years because they DIDN’T change their styles. I would like the same styles and would not mind an increase in price to ensure the quality of the fabrics did not suffer .

  9. Where else can I find decent jeans not a lot of places make 25 length will certainly miss this place and may I say the staff who work at Bonmarche in Rivergate Irvine have always been helpful and very polite, good luck in finding a new job.

  10. I been bonmachare since my sister tell me about the shop i never stop shopping staff always say to my husband tell your wife to buy shop I used to have parcel every week I’m going to miss it

  11. I go into my local Bon Marche store at least three times a week. I have bought lots of clothes from this shop.
    All of the staff are very friendly and helpful.
    I will be very upset if my local store closes as it is the only decent clothes shop where I live.

  12. Yes, I agree – fabrics have deteriorated in quality these last few years, and sizing is anything but consistent. I recently purchased Susie Slim Leg Jeans – super fit, with room for an ample tum – we all shrink in height as we age, and Bon Marché jeans used to take care of this. I then ordered Susie Slim Leg Jeans in Burgundy & Green. They are a completely different fit and fabric. You wouldn’t know they are supposed to be the same style. I also agree about wide & low necklines – not at all suitable for ladies in their late seventies who usually look far more elegant when covered, rather than showing all the wrinkly bits!

  13. I used to buy most of my clothes at M & S being a middle aged professional, but found Bon Marches’s t shirts and casual wear to be longer and better quality!

    However, the material in clothes like the summer cropped trousers, got thinner every year, until they felt paper thin and likely to rip! I would prefer to pay more for clothes of reasonable quality, than pay the same for worse quality!

  14. I love Bon marche.
    I m a small size but I like loose clothes don’t wear tight clothes. And I can only wear cotton.
    I Really hope it doesn’t close down as I will be lost where to buy my clothes.
    The staff are lovely and really helpful
    and I don’t want them to loose there jobs.

  15. I have been a customer for years but have hardly got anything since you got. ,that buyer came in he got things he liked not what customer liked he should go back to Lorraine Kelly and stay there and let someone else do the buying

  16. I love shopping at Bonmarche the staff are very helpful , love the styles of different tops , Just hope it doesn’t close down ,

  17. I shop at bonmarch and one of the reasons is because I can buy trousers which i don’t have to have shortened and that is a big thing to me as i’m under 5ft so please don’t close the Blackpool branch.

  18. Please don’t close bomarché I have been shopping there for year, and I use to love the David Emmanuel range but I must admit that since he left and was replaced by Mark it’s not been as good.

  19. I hope and pray that someone will save Bonmarche. The staff are so helpful and friendly and while the sizing has varied these last couple of years I still find something that fits and to my liking . When David Emanuel was their designer the sizing was consistant and styles were fabulous you could never go wrong. So please bring David Emanuel back and give Bonmarche an other chance the plus size women will be lost without Bonmarche I buy all my clothes from them online and when in the UK a couple of visits are a must ! In fact I was hoping that they would open a branch on Malta. Please don’t let the staff and customers suffer all because of bad management.

    • Yes, please bring David Emmanuel back. The styles WERE fabulous! I can’t wear Bon Marche jeans anymore. Size 14 too tight now and size 16 too big. Also, I don’t think the designs and patterns on the Spring and Summer tops, blouses and dresses have been appealing since Mark took over.

  20. I have shopped at bon Marche for several years. I do agree that the materials that are used are not always as good today as they used to be. I do hope it can be saved because I shop there all the time. Sometimes I order online and collect at my local store.

  21. As an ex manager let me say… if you always do what you have always done you will get what you always had. The policy of the top players was mushroom management. This was short sighted and what ultimately led to their downfall as well as the factors as mentioned in your article. Having read the afore mentioned article I actually learnt more than I did in 6 years service.

  22. Have shopped in Bon Marche for years from tops, jumpers, jeans, pyjamas and pants and have no idea where I would be if they closed. I use both Lichfield and Tamworth stores and always find the staff really helpful and friendly especially when I was on crutches prior to 2 hip replacements. I am only 51 so don’t consider myself particularly old but as size 16-18 the sizes are perfect for me. They are also the only place I’ve found that do different leg lengths in jeans. I wouldn’t mind even paying more for the items. I can’t walk past the stores without popping in and buying something. My mum also shops there regularly even though we have completely different tastes and lifestyles, so there is something for everyone. Please, please don’t let this wonderful store close.

  23. Please don’t go Bonmarche. You’re all we older women have left in our high street. I can’t travel out of town and I don’t like to buy online. We are being neglected.

  24. Absolutely correct on your comments! As soon as Beth Butterwick left and Helen Connolly took over I could see the writing on the wall. The fabrics used became cheaper and the sizing went out the window. The new management structure which was suppose to enhance the stores and staff did just the opposite. The advertising was directed at 30 year olds who shop at Next etc. This was absolutely the wrong direction for Bon Marche to take. It is a shame that the company has fallen into administration but the writing was on the wall when senior management would not listen to their staff when they would tell them about what the customer wanted. Helen Connolley and upper management have a lot to answer for!

  25. I love Bonmarche. Its true the necks are very low on some items. But I do buy a lot of clothes there, both online & in the Shop. My Mother who passed away 2 years ago at 101, bought most of her clothes there, sometimes she would spend 2 hours trying stuff on, she went into the shop until she was 100 years old. Please try an understand your customers, & keep up with the older mature woman, & you will succeed.

  26. Omg where will I buy my Jean’s now all sizes all lengths the widest range ever… have just ordered 6 pairs online to stock pile in case the shops close gutted I cried when CA and BHS went but to lose BMARCHE would tip me over the edge

  27. Bonmarche used to e fabulous it over recent years the quality is inferior no li I g in skirts and jackets, and fashion for smaller women and a younger age range. When the sales are on there is always a load of smaller sizes women are more discerning, so let’s hope things can change soon.

  28. I buy for my mum in Bonmarche and when on offer myself. My daughter has worked at Bonmarche for a few years. It would be a same to see if go. No more good clothes for my mum and no job for my daughter. The big managers had not took this into account. I will sadly miss it if it goes

  29. I feel very sad that Bon Marche have now become more of a “trendy” store. It used to be a shop where us more mature ladies could always find an item of clothing. There are so many stores that cater for the younger woman. Your new designer “Mark”
    hasn,t helped.!

    Please Bon Marche go back to catering for the mature woman as before and you will be successful again.

  30. I have purchased from bonmarche fir a great number if years and loved their styles and fit. But the quality has changed over the past couple of years. Go back to how it was and it will be great again. Dont close

  31. My Mum and I get most of our clothes in Bon Marche. I agree that the necklines have got a bit strange and if the body size fits the neckline is often baggy. I am still wear the same size clothes though so no issue with sizes. The t shirt fabric has got thinner and doesn’t wash so well. I hope they get a buyer, we love the store. It is the only place that does jeans to fit my shape in a 31 length. Everybody else’s are not big enough over the hips. If I get the hips to fit the waist is baggy. I am going to buy another 4 pairs just in case. This could go back to being a very successful store if they stopped trying to supply the young grungy clothes. Loads of stores do that already.

  32. Oh dear please dont close Bon Marche there are no other shops for over 50’s ladies to buy from. The quality and choice is great & staff are very helpful. I order online & collect & try on in shop – if they dont fit the shop returns them. A great store in Manchester

    • What do, you mean there are no other shops for over 50’s? What about Evans (though went downhill in recent years), Yours, M & S, J.D Williams (online & by post/phone only) Seasalt Cornwall, John Lewis? Probably more shops just within certain areas/regions. Nothing stays the same & it’s only clothes/fashion, not life & death

  33. For all those that want to keep Bon Marche open put your views in writing to their head office. They are not going to see all the support they have by posting on these type of threads.

    Bon Marche
    Jubilee Way
    Grange Moor
    Wakefield
    WF4 4SJ

    • A very good point. Not only is it important to save the shops but also the wonderful friendly in-store staff and the efficient online service from Wakefield. Well done to you all

  34. I have shopped in Bonmarche for years. My wardrobe is probably 75% Bonmarche. I love the summer dresses, the jeans, the tops, the jumpers, and the coats. I don’t know anything about the people that run the company or buy for the company, or anything like that. I just know it’s one of the only shops for people of a certain age and I and a lot of my friends will be really upset if Bonmarche closes. Where will we shop? Please, please find an investor or buyer so that it doesn’t close.

  35. Please, please don’t close Bonmarché. I agree with all the comments made. Just do away with the sloppy wide necks & do more blouses & tops with collers.
    Staff are soooo helpful & friendly.

  36. I love Bon Marche and have been buying for a few years now, the sizing could always be relied on.
    However I feel the brand lost something when David Emanuel stopped designing for them and I personally have not spent as much in the last couple of years, having said this it will be very sad to lose the them from the high street.

  37. Please don’t get rid of Bon Marche, I buy so many clothes there. For my age the choice, styles and reasonable prices are second to none.

  38. I love bonmarche ,im a size 10 /12 and have bought loads of clothes ,every week in bonmarche,
    so lets hope you find a buyer soon.

  39. Like so many others, I have been buying most of my clothes from Bon Marche for years.
    I am a plus size 55 yr old and it is about the only place I can find pretty clothes that actually fit me, and for a good price.
    I would say they have their own niche market and should advertise themselves more as such.
    There are plenty of stores for younger people, but ALL of us need clothes, and it is great to have somewhere I can always rely on for.
    There is no shame in being an ‘older people’s’ retailer – they should be proud of the service they provide.
    My local store is always pretty busy and the staff are helpful and friendly.
    I do so hope we don’t lose my favourite shop – not least for the security and wellbeing of the lovely ladies who work there.

  40. Jeans and cotton tops are still good – but yes, size is increased by adding a bit down the centre so necklines sag and shoulder seams go down the arm. Fabrics are cheap, patterns are cheap. Perhaps senior managers should be instructed to wear their stock? And they do need to check sizes by trying them on real people! We holders of the “grey pound” are still a force, but we are not in the market for throwaway clothes! Our local branch is already advertising Closing. We will miss it and the helpful staff.

  41. Though I find some of their clothes to be a bit old fashioned, they are the only place that I could find a pair of jeans in the right length that fits me perfectly as they offer a choice of cuts and lengths.

    Their tops were usually too short for me unless they were a tunic style.

    The loud piped music in the shops made it difficult for a hearing impaired relative to hear, and I found it so irritating myself that it often drove me out of the shop. Their demographic is older and generally people of that age group don’t like constant loud piped pop music. I think they misjudged their customers with that one.

    I would have liked to have browsed more, but I still have a lot of clothes from Bonmarche as I often order online but pick up in store as I don’t have to stay too long then.

    I will miss them if they go out of business

  42. From an outsiders perspective I have read some of the above comments regarding change in strategy and aiming at a new target demographic. His has been a complete disaster and is the brainchild of Helen Connoly who from my understanding has been useless at her previous jobs and roles in retail. The staff who work in both the shops and head office are having to pay a big price for Helens terrible mistakes and poor steer of Bonmarche. She needs to be held to account for the failings of what was once a very successful business.

  43. I agree with Joes comments. Helen has shown no leadership worthy of any senior manager let alone a CEO of a company. She had very little expertise and experience in delivering what we needed to push forward the Bonmarche brand. It will be a tragedy if she is appointed another CEO role in another business. Be warned she is not fit for the role.

  44. I am a 67 year old grandmother who likes to keep in fashion but not dress too young. Bon Marche is the only shop in our town that suits my clothes shopping needs. The staff are exceptional and will always try to order online if they can’t find my size and I also order online and collect from the shop after I have tried the garments on. Anything I don’t want is immediately refunded on my card.
    I agree that some tops have necks that are too wide but it’s a case of trying before you buy.
    I will be devastated if our store is closed as I pop in every time I visit our town and always come out with some item that I love!

  45. Loved shopping in Bon Marche.Most of my clothes came from there and lasted for ages wearing very well. Went to a wedding in America. Walked out of a lift in a very top of the scale hotel in SAN Francisco to be told by a very well dressed lady, Like your dress! Couldn’t wait to go back and tell Bon Marche! But the styles this last 2 years have changed and no longer flatter my 70 year old body and have been shocked by the quality of this years fabrics! Such a shame!

  46. Am in panic. Just tried to order my usual jeans online from Bon Marche to collect instore and none left! Don’t know anywhere else that does jeans that fit me. Also love the cotton 3/4 sleeve tops and tunic tops and cut off summer trousers. Would be happy to pay more for these items. But lately too many cheap polyester and acrylic items in the shop. It would help if they re-stocked and had a limited number of popular quality items available online. The staff in the New Malden shop are wonderful. So helpful and so hopeful that the shop could go on. I do hope a way can be found to preserve this brand.

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