Business

Mothercare confirms 50 store closures

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Media captionMothers at this shopping centre say other stores are better at catering for young children

Mothercare has confirmed it is closing 50 stores as part of a rescue plan, a move that will put 800 jobs at risk.

The baby products retailer said it was in a "perilous" financial position.

The store closures will leave it with 78 outlets in the UK by 2020.

The retailer has already nearly halved its store numbers over the past five years. It had intended have 92 outlets by 2023, but has now accelerated its closure plans and will have just 73 by that year.

The company plunged to a £72.8m loss in its most recent financial year, as it took hefty charges to pay for closing stores and reorganising the business.

Mothercare saw falling numbers of shoppers in the second half of the financial year and had to discount to try to stimulate sales. However, over the year as a whole, like-for-like sales fell 1.3%.

Analysis

by Emma Simpson, business correspondent

You just have to speak to shoppers to understand what's gone wrong at Mothercare.

The mums I met yesterday bought their baby stuff in the likes of Primark and the supermarkets. Mothercare, they told me, was too pricey.

Truth is, this chain has been struggling for a long time. Its UK business hasn't made a profit since 2012. It's yet another High Street chain that hasn't kept up with changing shopping habits and increasing competition. The tough conditions on the high street have finally brought things to a head.

Will this restructuring be enough to secure long term survival? The shenanigans over its management changes don't exactly instil confidence and raise questions about the leadership of a business which needs a compete reboot.

The plan to close stores and cut rents at 21 of its stores is being carried out through a company voluntary arrangement (CVA).

The CVA, as is standard, will need the support of its creditors. One of these, the Pension Protection Fund, has already said it will vote in favour.

The company also said it would reappoint the chief executive who left in April following poor Christmas trading and a profits warning.

Mark Newton-Jones was sacked by the then chairman Alan Parker - who has himself subsequently stepped down. Former Tesco executive David Wood who had taken on the chief executive role and is just over a month into the job, will become group managing director.

In a statement, Mothercare said: "Recent financial performance, impacted in particular by a large number of legacy loss making stores within the UK estate, has resulted in a perilous financial condition for the group."

As part of its restructuring, Mothercare has also arranged a refinancing package worth up to £113.5m, which includes £28m raised through issuing new shares, and an extension of its existing debt arrangements.

Mothercare chairman Clive Whiley said: "These measures provide a solid platform from which to reposition the group and begin to focus on growth, both in the UK and internationally."

'Unforgiving' climate

CVAs have become widespread this year as a sheaf of major High Street names have had to undergo deep changes in the way they operate.

Earlier this year, toy store chain Toys R Us collapsed into administration, as did electronics retailer Maplin.

Carpetright has entered into a CVA and announced store closures, as has fashion chain New Look.

A number of reasons have been cited for failures on the High Street, including a squeeze on consumers' income, the growth of online shopping and the rising costs of staff, rents and business rates.

Richard Hyman, retail adviser and consultant, told the BBC's Today programme that Mothercare's problems went back years.

"I think Mothercare has not really delivered on the promise implicit in the name, in trading terms, for generations really," he said.

"Nothing can sum it up quite as well as the fact you can't get a pram round the store."

He added that this has become more of an issue as the trading climate is now "so much more unforgiving".

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