Electricity firms flee after nasty brush with retail market after

Seeboard and Northern Electric will be the next two regional electricity companies to abandon the cut-throat electrical retailing market, according to a survey published today by consultants Verdict Research. The report adds that within a couple of years the vast majority of the Recs could have disappeared from the high street, leaving only bill payment centres.

Seeboard, which serves the South-east, has 59 stores but made operating profits of just £1.8m on sales of £54.3m last year. With a market share of just 0.6 per cent, the company is considered too small to compete with players such as Dixons and Comet. The stores are described in the report as "typical of the plush dullness of so many Recs".

Northern, which recently gained a respite from a hostile takeover attempt by Trafalgar House, has an even smaller market share of just 0.4 per cent.

"It's a question of commitment and expertise," says Verdict's Richard Hyman. "The Recs really had retailing just thrust upon them. It's not central to their business."

The electricity companies have been falling over each other to get out of the "mayhem" market. The last two weeks have seen Manweb sell its superstores to Scottish Power and SWEB throw in the towel after an offer from Norweb.

These high street chains were drowning in a sea of red ink. Manweb's five out-of-town superstores lost £500,000 last year, forcing the company to make total provisions of £16m

The market has been so brutal that even Thorn EMI decided to withdraw its support for Rumbelows while Comet, the chain owned by Kingfisher, fell to a loss. Eastern, Yorkshire and London Electricity have already sold up after heavy losses.