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Exclusive: Bells Shoes to wind down operations

Family-run footwear retailer Bells Shoes is winding down its online business, Drapers has learned.

Of Bells Shoes’ total sales, 95% of its sales are online, and 30% come from its overseas business. It launched a German website in the second half of 2016.

It is not clear precisely how many jobs will be affected. Bells employs more than 50 staff.

The retailer stocks Clarks, which accounts for the lion’s share of its online product, as well as Skechers, Barbour, Birkenstock and Dr Martens.

It has emerged that Clarks decided not to continue supplying product to Bells early last month. Clarks said it had offered “extended support” to the retailer outside of this, going into 2019.

A spokesman for Clarks confirmed: “Bells and Clarks have enjoyed a longstanding partnership for more than 20 years, so we are saddened to hear of their decision to close the business and the wider implication that this will have for Bells’ colleagues and staff.

“We have been for some time discussing with Bells the basis of our trading relationship and the terms upon which they bought product from us. Disappointingly, we were unable to agree on terms going forward and so, on 9 February, we sent notice to Bells Shoes advising we would not continue supplying our product to them.

“Suffice to say that any decision to bring a trading relationship to an end is a difficult one. As a valued partner, we had offered extended support to Bells running into 2019 as they transitioned their business away.”

A spokeswoman for Bells said: “Bells Shoes have regretfully instigated a six-month controlled closure due to a drastic change in our supply chain. There will be no further comment at this time.”

In the year to 31 March 2017, the retailer’s total turnover was up 10% to £16m. However, operating profit plummeted by 60% to £491,000.

The retailer, which was founded in 1890 as E Bell & Sons, also operates a shop on Buxton High Street in Derbyshire. It is not yet clear whether this will be affected.

The wider business also runs three Clarks franchise stores, which operates separately from Bells.

Bells launched its website in 2007, a year before Clarks launched online. At the time, Clarks made up 95% of its offering.

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