Ten high-street brands that look seriously past their sell-by date

The collapse into administration of Music Zone, the cut-price CD retailer, and Greeting Card Group, the Cardfair and Card Warehouse company, raises the question of which other retail formats are looking dangerously tired? Susie Mesure trawls the high street to find out
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The Independent Online


Angus Monro, the last chief executive of Instore, thought that he was doing the former Poundstretcher chain a favour by ditching the old brand name. But at least Poundstretcher, which sold odds and sods at bargain-basement prices, did "what it said on the tin", to quote the old Ronseal ad. Instore, which sells the same array of cheap goodies, has just never caught on as a brand. And that has put the whole company in trouble, as it admitted in a pre-Christmas profit warning. The proliferation of pound stores on some high streets suggests there is life in the format, but not, it seems, at Instore.


Like a recurring nightmare, Trevor Bish-Jones has been running hard and going nowhere ever since he took the helm at the retailer. His reward for his hard work? Woolworths was the chain cited most often in my straw poll as being irrelevant. Woolworths likes to think of itself as a destination store for busy mums who can stock up on some kids' clothes and keep the little darlings quiet with some pick 'n' mix, but my respondents begged to differ. Either way, the chain is being squeezed hard by the mighty supermarkets, as was evident from its own pre-Christmas profit warning.


So long as Sir Philip Green holds the purse strings, there may be no danger of Bhs becoming a high-street casualty, but that does not make the retailer immune from the vagaries of the retail climate. In contrast to a revived M&S, Bhs looks distinctly last century. And Sir Philip knows it. Getting big names such as Gordon Ramsay on board to design kitchenware ranges is a start, but Bhs will continue to scrabble around for customers unless it can come up with a few more USPs that actually appeal to its customer base.


There are many reasons why the Bournemouth-based department store group deserves a mention on this list of retailers in danger of becoming irrelevant. Not least is that Beales has failed to attract any serious bid interest despite the flurry of activity in the sector. House of Fraser swallowed Jenners and then Beatties and then was itself bought by Baugur, yet Beales' 12 stores limp on. The stores themselves hark back to the Are you being served? era, which hardly helps in today's ultra-competitive environment. Beales or John Lewis? The answer probably lies in John Lewis's record Christmas sales figures.


One of three shoe chains owned by the struggling Stylo group, Barratts' problems - it is loss-making and has been for years - are symptomatic of the fact that shoe retailers are two-a-penny on UK high streets. Piling on the misery for the likes of Barratts, stuck bang in the middle of the market, is that the big clothing boys, from Marks & Spencer to H&M, have muscled into their territory with some quite decent shoe ranges of their own. Shoe retailers have been struggling for much of the past decade and 2007 will not provide any respite to their woes.


Think of a food trend and then think of this northern baker, which is famous for its sausage rolls and doorstep sandwiches; Greggs is about as far removed from the healthy-eating trend as it's possible to get. The decline of the Atkins diet pheno-menon swung the needle back in Greggs' favour briefly, but that hasn't stopped its underlying sales growth from tailing off. By its own admission, Greggs has much work to do on improving the baked snacks it sells. With more than 1,000 shops, the group is hardly irrelevant yet. But it needs to watch its back.

JD Sports

Try heading to one of its branches for a pair of trainers and you will understand the point I'm going to make. To put it bluntly, JD Sports is not a sportswear retailer, contrary to the impression it gives on its shop fronts. These days, JD Sports, the trading name for the John David Group, majors on selling fashionable leisurewear - if that isn't an oxymoron. The idea is all well and good when sportswear is all the craze, but when the likes of Top Shop are peddling ladylike chic then JD Sports just looks obsolete.


Given the rush on its stock in early December, this might seem an odd one to choose. But high-street off-licences have long risked becoming an irrelevance in today's supermarket-saturated times. Witness the collapse of Unwins. Not to mention Thresher's frequent attempts to reinvent itself as more than just a place to pick up the odd bottle of £5 wine en route to a dinner party. The industry's conspiracy theorists reckon Thresher's infamous 40 per cent-off voucher - which was posted on the net by a South African supplier - may actually have been a cunning marketing ploy.

WH Smith

For all the good that Kate Swann has done to WH Smith's profit margins in the two years she has been in charge, there is a limit to how much posh stationery the shopping public needs. Plus its shrinking product portfolio will wipe out what little destination-store status it still enjoys, not to mention seriously hamper its buying power with suppliers. With the exception of its travel retail stores, its sales are in a tailspin and destined to remain so.

Ethel Austin

The trouble here is that the value end of the clothing market has got dangerously overcrowded. The supermarkets, Primark, Inditex and H&M have taken centre stage, posing a serious problem for the likes of Ethel Austin. The internet shopping phenomenon could well be the nail in the coffin for the Liverpool-based chain. The fact that Ethel Austin is another debt-laden private-equity backed retailer only adds to its woes.