Threshers' franchisees are 'determined to resist' transfer to new First Quench owner

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The Independent Online

The majority of Threshers' franchisees have told the administrators of First Quench Retailing (FQR), the off-licence chain's owner, that they plan to resist any attempt to force them into a sale to a purchaser of the business.

Threshers' franchisees have formed an action group and are working with the law firm Blake Lapthorn to consider a range of options, including making a collective bid to purchase the franchised estate by Friday, or exiting their franchise agreement on an individual basis to continue trading as independents. Around 55 of the 65 franchisees have informed the administrator, KPMG, that they are "unlikely to consent" to being sold to any buyer.

The move is significant as the franchisee stores account for about £30m, or 10 per cent, of the sales of FQR, which has 1,200 stores and includes the Wine Rack and The Local chains. Geoffrey Sturges, a franchise lawyer at Blake Lapthorn, said that unlike employees – who have the right to refuse to transfer to a purchaser of a business – franchisees can be transferred without their consent. However, he said, "We have carefully considered the position of the Thresher franchisees, and are pretty confident they have the right to walk away if they don't like the purchaser. They are determined to resist any attempt to force them into a sale they would be unhappy with."

Franchisees are furious at FQR, particularly at the lack of stock delivered to stores for long periods this year, which they believe constitutes a "fundamental breach" of their franchise agreement.

If KPMG does try to push forward with a sale they oppose, the franchisees may use this breach to leave them free to trade as independents. Blake Lapthorn is delivering to local authority licensing departments 50 requests for licences to be transferred to the franchisees from the interim holders, the administrators. KPMG said it is "in the process of marketing the business of FQR for sale, including the franchisee business". It said it is considering the transfer requests in the context of all options, including their likely impact on the sale of the business.