Pavers, the branded footwear chain, is also thought to be looking at selected Stead & Simpson sites.
A Shoe Zone deal could complete by as early as Monday and industry sources said the remaining Stead & Simpson businesses were likely to be wound up on completion if an agreement with Shoe Zone could be reached next week. The Stead & Simpson chain has 200 shops while Shoe Express, its value format which competes head on with Shoe Zone has around 70 sites. Its branded Peter Briggs business has 60 shops. It is unclear which shops Shoe Zone is eyeing.
A spokesman for Stead & Simpson confirmed that Clinkards had bought 12 branded shops including six Philip Jones stores and six shops which operate under individual fascias but which sell primarily branded stock in a deal finalised today.
However, he declined to comment on speculation about Shoe Zone, which is already the largest specialist footwear chain in the UK by number of stores. He said: "There has been interest in all parts of the business and the completion of this process is not a million miles away. I cannot comment on timing or specifics."
One footwear insider said that a Shoe Zone acquisition could have been prompted as a protectionist measure. He said: "Shoe Zone is in a very strong position with 600 or so shops now. This will help them to ensure no one comes into their value market to compete. Finally, the shoe industry is sorting itself out."
A second source close to the situation said: "It fits logically with what is for sale. Steads has about 60 branded stores which could be attractive to Pavers and it also has Shoe Express which is similar in operation to Shoe Zone."
Earlier this month Stead & Simpson sold 25 of its Famous Footwear factory outlets to The Jacobson Group.
Stead & Simpson is not the only business that has struggled to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Dolcis collapsed into administration earlier this week. Verdict Research issued a report today which said that the specialists had seen their market share shring from more than 50% in 2001 to 41.8% last year.
No one from Shoe Zone was available for comment. Pavers could not be reached for comment.