American Greetings firm snaps up Clinton cards

 

The remains of high street chain Clinton Cards were today snapped up by an American greetings cards firm in a deal saving 397 stores and 4,500 jobs.

Ohio-based American Greetings, which has been one of Clinton's biggest suppliers, will take on the brands and assets of the retailer, which collapsed into administration a month ago.

Zolfo Cooper, the administrator, has already announced the closure of around 350 stores, costing the jobs of nearly 3,000 full- and part-time staff.

American Greetings placed itself in pole position to buy the chain after it snapped up Clinton's £35 million bank debt, making it a preferential creditor and giving it a strong position in sale talks.

The US company's UK Greetings operation, which is based in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, has the brands Camden Graphics, Hanson White, Forget Me Not and Xpressions and supplies outlets including major supermarkets.

The final number of stores acquired will be dependent on negotiations with landlords at each location.

Its chief executive Zev Weiss said: "We are pleased to welcome these stores, the Clinton Cards brand, and the approximately 4,500 employees as members of the American Greetings family.

"We believe that properly managed, and with the appropriate capital structure, Clinton Cards can be both an important and profitable retailer in the speciality channel of distribution over the long term."

Zolfo Cooper partner Peter Saville said there was a strong underlying business, with the company paying the price for "excessively ambitious" expansion plans and the impact of intense competition.

He said: "The significant number of credible expressions of interest we received for the business we have sold today, from both trade and financial buyers alike, is testament to this fact."

Zolfo said it would now focus its efforts on the store portfolio identified for closure three weeks ago. The first 44 stores out of 350 lined up for closure shut at the end of last month.

The stores being sold made £212 million in sales last year, out of a total of £360 million across the two brands of Clinton Cards and Birthdays.

Clinton Cards, the UK's largest specialist retailer of greetings cards, was founded by chairman Don Lewin in Epping, Essex, in 1968.

Its collapse served as another blow to the high street after recent high-profile casualties including video games retailer Game Group, fashion chain Peacocks and outdoor specialist Blacks Leisure.

American Greetings dates back more than 100 years and generates annual revenues of 1.7 billion US dollars (£1.1 billion) from brands including Carlton Cards, Gibson and Papyrus.

Its UK operations began in the early 1980s with the purchase of long-established industry names - Rust Craft, Celebration Arts Group and Andrew Valentine. They were merged to form one company, Carlton Cards, and after more acquisitions in the 1990s the business took the UK Greetings name.

In March last year, it acquired Corby-based card and gift wrap publisher Watermark, which employed 250 people with annual revenues of around £26 million.

PA

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