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Debenhams...Kirklands?


Kirklands and Co.


It is with great dismay that the long-established storehouse giant, Kirklands and Co, has fallen into administration. This sad news follows hot on the heels of the collapse of Debenhams, which started as a single shop in central London in 1778. Like Debenhams, the administrators said the outlook for a restructured operation was “highly uncertain” and are now seeking offers for all or parts of the business. It comes as no surprise to those who have been keeping an eye on stock market trends over the last 60 years, yet it comes as a total surprise to those who had been told by store inspectors over the years that every outlet was “in good heart”.


The pandemic has had a severe impact on business and, ironically, failure to take the internet seriously, together with the underfunding of its few quality internet-based outlets as new means of business, has brought Kirklands to this precarious place.


Kirklands had outlets in nearly every major town and area of Scotland, even branching out abroad. Some towns even had two or three or four outlets and the management failed to streamline this age-old practice which other businesses had foreseen and moved into retail parks. Even though the different outlets had their “regulars” the income was such that it needed more than a friendly face and familiarity to survive, with the rising cost of building upkeep, to say nothing of the cost of providing the manager’s salary.


Several managers have now sought advice from their union because the owners of Kirklands had promised them a job for life and unless they were caught shopping in one of their “rivals” or, worse still, caught by the media saying something detrimental about their own products, then they could expect to sail along quietly until deserved retirement. The prospect of a court case to enforce this ancient practice is virtually nil since no court in the land would entertain a situation which is applicable nowhere else in the universe, and certainly which employees of many other companies up and down the land, including Debenhams, could reasonably expect.


Some retail outlet groupings have got together to promote the case for the “status quo”, keeping all outlets open and hoping for an upturn in business following the pandemic, coupled with embracing the “fantastic new opportunities” that Brexit presents for business. The company management has helpfully supplied these groupings with shovels in order that they may be able to dig their own heads out of the sand, not an easy task because it involves contorting one’s body, however good Samaritans have been on hand for a while now, available to dig at a moment’s notice.


Sadly, some outlets are continuing to carry out window dressing, with robes, clerical gear, morning suits, dark ties, and a collection of Sunday hats, which they feel sure will make a comeback like flairs and wedges, only neither seem to have made a comeback of note. One commentator said it was like continuing to sell film for cameras.


Some “Kirklands regulars” have said they will never return to a Kirklands store again unless their particular favoured outlet remains open which speaks volumes for the mammoth task of rejuvenating a flailing business.


The online part of the business has been snapped up by another independent retailer. The old guard in the board room who looked after the business simply did not have the foresight to embrace modern technology and modern ways which would have enhanced the sale of the products which at their heart are the same yesterday, today, and forever.


Woolworths gone long ago from our high street, now Kirklands, which shows that pick ‘n mix certainly has had its day. It may only be a matter of time before Kirklands disappears from the high street altogether unless a last-minute rescue package can be put together by some of the employees who are determined to see some presence in locations around Scotland, building on the new projects that are seeing products taken out to people in the community and planting seeds of hope.


Kirklands and Co, founded 1560.

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