Suppliers force Ratners retreat

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The Independent Online
RATNERS, the debt-laden jewellery retailer, has backed down over attempts to impose standardised contracts on hundreds of suppliers.

The contracts were seen as a way of strengthening Ratners' financial security, but at the expense of the suppliers' own businesses.

David George, head of operations at the 750-member British Jewellers' Association, said suppliers refused to sign the documents and made alterations before they were returned.

'There was tension, but the contracts just went away and ceased to be a problem for our members,' said Mr George.

Last year, suppliers were angered when Ratners attempted to extend credit to 60 days from the existing week-to-30 days. With the jeweller in financial crisis, the suppliers' banks wanted a reduced exposure to Ratners, Mr George said. The big slip in sales following Gerald Ratner's infamous 'crap' comment contributed to a pounds 122m loss in the company's last financial year.

Ratners had also stated in the contracts that it wanted to become owner of its stock as soon as it was delivered, rather than when it was paid for. Mr George said the company had now seen sense, and both sides were building bridges to restore confidence.

Ratners, now chaired by James McAdam, this week insisted that it never intended to standardise every detail, and there would be no impact on its finances. 'In the majority of cases, we have come to a satisfactory agreement between suppliers and ourselves,' a spokesman said.

It also emerged this week that Ratners is paying more than pounds 500,000 to a Touche Ross receiver who was suing over unpaid bills to a former supplier.

Slade Holdings, then based at Hatton Garden, collapsed in February 1991 blaming cut- backs in stocks by Ratners as a contributory factor.

Last year, Touche Ross issued a writ demanding pounds 1m following repeated requests for payment on the gold jewellery.

Earlier this month, it agreed an out-of-court settlement of more than pounds 500,000 to be paid in two tranches.

(Photograph omitted)