The industry is calling for government support as scores of retailers across the UK cut head office roles in a bid to reduce costs and combat tough trading conditions.
In the latest wave of retail job cuts White Stuff placed some head office roles from its customer and wholesale teams into consultation, as part of its ongoing business transformation programme, as Drapers exclusively revealed last week. An undisclosed number of roles are at risk of redundancy.
A White Stuff spokeswoman said: “In light of leadership changes earlier this year with the introduction of a customer director [Penny Herriman] and multi-channel director [Toby Milton], White Stuff is currently reviewing how it structures itself to best build a global multichannel brand and put customer-centricity at the heart of everything we do.”
Meanwhile, Drapers understands that several Jack Wills employees have been made redundant in the past fortnight, across the retailer’s quality control and technical teams. Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley bought the lifestyle retailer for £12.8m in a pre-pack administration deal in August. Sports Direct did not respond to requests for comment.
Drapers also understands that several Asos employees in compliance and technical teams have been made redundant. Around 100 roles were put into consultation across a mix of disciplines including technology, sustainability and ethics, design, merchandising and sourcing in October. It is believed that not all 100 roles will be axed. Drapers has contacted Asos for comment.
Elsewhere, Mothercare’s UK business will be wound down by February. Around 125 employees were made redundant the day after the retailer went into administration on 5 November. All 79 stores are expected to close, resulting in 2,500 redundancies.
“Redundancies are rife,” said Steve Cochrane, managing director of designer clothing retailer Psyche in Middlesbrough. “The high street is a massive employer and I think a lot people will struggle, particularly those who are older, to get employment ever again.”
Industry sources said the government could help ease the situation by reducing business rates and rents, and helping the high street.
One womenswear retailer CEO said: “It’s a storm of online increasing; rents and business rates not fit for the change in shopping habits; upward rents and unrealistic rents in the market as it is now; too many of the same brands in every town; and independents closing when the ‘big boys’ came to town and started discounting.
“Help and support are needed, and the approach should be joined up and consistent. From the government: addressing business rates quickly and significantly before more stores close; landlords sharing the pain and adjusting rents down; ending long lease terms with no breaks; turnover leases; and councils should offer free parking.
“Ending Brexit uncertainty is also a factor for anyone considering investing in opening in the UK. We need certainty, whatever the outcome. Investment is just not happening as this limbo continues.”
One high street retail source agreed: “The government can certainly help when it comes to business rates, and try to install equality between online and offline services.
“We’re in a period where we’re going to see lots of change. There will be further casualties in the shorter term, but if there is investment and support from the government, then we should see occupancy being returned and retail jobs being filled.”
Even healthy retailers are holding off recruiting amid Christmas trade fears and Brexit uncertainty.
“Right now, retailers are looking down the barrel of what is likely to be appalling Christmas trade, after a very poor 2019,” said Mary Anderson-Ford, managing director of Aquaretail, said. “No major recruitment is taking place as a result.”
One headhunter described the recruitment climate as “dead”: “[Retail recruitment] has been variable throughout this year, but not a lot has moved since August. The usual September uplift didn’t happen – for obvious reasons, with Brexit expected in October – but since that’s been postponed, the lull remains because of Christmas trade fears.”
Karen Collier, managing director of fashion recruitment company Collier Careers, agreed that Brexit and the election are causing retailers to delay decisions: “The election is only adding to the unrest, as nobody knows the direction of the economy in general – so clients don’t want to do anything too courageous in case they get it wrong, but also candidates are tending to sit tight.”