Stricken retailer Blacks Leisure confirmed today it will go into administration but said it still hopes most of the business will be salvaged by buyers.
The company, which runs 98 Blacks outlets and 208 Millets stores and employs some 3,600 staff, admitted it has failed to find an outright buyer after putting itself up for sale following dire trading.
But it has received offers for the trade, assets and brands of the group and expects to announce the appointment of administrators in coming days to allow the sale as part of a pre-pack deal.
It also said its shares will be suspended from today because the deal will attribute no value to its stock.
Dragons' Den star Peter Jones, Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's Sports Direct and sportswear firm JD Sports are among the likely bidders.
It is hoped that the deal will help it save many of the jobs by allowing buyers to cherry-pick its best assets, including the profitable stores.
However, some job losses are widely expected, particularly at its head office and warehouse in Northampton, which costs the company around £26 million a year, including rent and wages.
The company will continue trading as normal as the details of the deal are thrashed out over coming days.
A pre-pack deal - an insolvency procedure which sees a company being sold immediately after it has entered administration - would see most of its £36 million of debt wiped out and its worst-performing stores closed.
The process is viewed as controversial because creditors do not have the opportunity to vote against the proposed asset sale - although the swift sale of the assets is necessary to enable the best price to be achieved.
There had been concerns over the future of the stricken firm after its biggest shareholder, Sports Direct, walked away from initial buy-out talks, sparking fears of a lack of interest.
But Sports Direct, which owns 22.5% of Blacks Leisure, is now a forerunner to buy the group out of administration.
Mr Jones, who appears on a panel of wealthy investors on the popular BBC reality show and according to the Sunday Times Rich List is worth around £220 million, is also in the reckoning. He has a business portfolio spanning mobile phones, television, media, leisure and property.
Outdoor specialist Mountain Warehouse and retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mill have all been named as potential buyers for the company but are not thought to be among the four remaining interested parties.