20 branches shut in Liberty blitz

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The Independent Online
Liberty, the upmarket retailer that is being re-structured under new management, has announced a radical shake-up of the 120-year-old group that will see 350 job losses and the closure of all 20 regional branches.

The company plans to concentrate on its flagship Regent Street store in London and the international development of the brand.

The 20 provincial stores, in cities such as Bath, Glasgow and Cambridge, will close by August at a cost of pounds 5m.

The closures include one branch in the City of London opened only last year. The two branches at Heathrow Airport, which are profitable, will be retained. Another Heathrow outlet will open in Terminal 2 this week and a fourth at Terminal 4 in August.

The three branches of Muji, which are operated under a joint venture with a Japanese group, are unaffected.

Commenting on the closures, new chief executive Ian Thomson said: "We want to focus on the flagship store and the international development of the Liberty brand. We are not able to replicate the atmosphere of the Regent Street store, or the range of its assortment in the regional branches."

Mr Thomson said Liberty would expand internationally. More airport outlets are expected, though it is likely they will be larger, and city centre stores may also be opened.

The closure programme fuelled speculation yesterday that the Stewart- Liberty family, who founded the company in 1875 and still own 44 per cent of the shares, might decide to reduce their holding. The shares fell 15p to 370p.

The decision to pull out of regions such as Brighton, Bath and Glasgow is part of a strategic review of Liberty undertaken by Dennis Cassidy, who joined Liberty as chairman last year.

It follows a profits warning in April when the company ousted its then chief executive and passed the final dividend. Liberty warned then that its pre-tax profits for the year to January would fall from last year's pounds 3.6m to not more than pounds 2.1m.

The board's action has the support of Bryan Myerson, the South African investor who has 17 per cent of Liberty's shares and successfully campaigned for the modernisation of the group. Many of his plans have been enacted, including the enfranchisement of non-voting shares.

Andrew Garety has been appointed finance director. He held a similar post at Boddington, the pubs group.