Deal saves 900 Officers Club jobs

The struggling British menswear retailer The Officers Club was in new hands today after a deal which saved more than 900 jobs.

The chain was put up for sale by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers after being put into administration yesterday. Business had been suffering during the economic downturn.

A new company backed by David Charlton, chief executive of The Officers Club, has taken on 118 of the firm's 150 stores. But the remaining 32 stores will close immediately.

Mr Charlton said: "We are very pleased to be able to secure this deal and protect the employment of over 900 people in the stores and head office.

"We welcome the opportunity to take the business forward and look forward to a successful future."

The Officers Club (TOC) is the latest high street business to fall victim to the retail downturn, joining Woolworths and beverage retailer Whittard of Chelsea in being placed in administration.

TimeC 1215 Ltd has purchased the business and assets of TOC's 118 stores. It is not clear if the company will trade as TOC.

Ian Green, from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Leeds who was co-ordinating the deal, said: "We are delighted to be able to announce this sale, resulting in the preservation of over 900 jobs, particularly at this challenging time in the retail sector.

"The sale to TimeC 1215 Limited represents a significantly better result for the creditors of the companies than any other alternative."

TOC was started in Sunderland in the early 1990s and sourced clothes cheaply from Asia, selling them under its own-brand labels.

It grew rapidly and, after buy-outs, became Britain's biggest menswear-only retailer, with flagship stores in the North East and on London's Oxford Street.

The business struggled to find a niche after it tried to move into the middle market from its origins as a value retailer, according to one industry expert.

Jonathan de Mello, director of retail consultancy with business analyst Experian, said: "It is not much of a surprise that they are suffering from the credit crunch."

He said the outlets tended to be located at cheaper plots in shopping centres, and so had lower footfall than competitors.

Concentrating on menswear alone may also have been an error, he said, as men tend to be encouraged to shop by women, who prefer retailers which cater for both sexes.

"Retailers that offer everything under one roof, like H&M, Zara and Next, all have a high market share, as men can shop while women can also have a look around," Mr de Mello said.

The sale of TOC follows reports that up to 15 high street names may go into administration in the new year because of the difficult trading conditions.

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