Thursday 27 April 2017

Ulster Bank sends in receiver to books chain

Jobs at risk in family-run business after 26 years' trading

Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

ULSTER Bank has appointed a receiver to the Hughes & Hughes bookstore chain, ending 26 years of family ownership and putting 225 jobs in jeopardy at the bookseller's airport and high street stores.

The shutters came down on some properties after the receivership was announced yesterday afternoon, though the outlets at Dublin Airport were still trading last night and the receiver confirmed they would remain open for now.

The intentions of UIster Bank -- which can trade the stores, sell them on, or shut them down -- remain unclear. The receiver is understood to have met Dublin Airport executives last night, suggesting that at least some trading might continue.

The collapse of Hughes & Hughes comes after a period of rapid expansion which saw the bookstore plough €2m into a Dundrum store in 2008 and open several other outlets away from its airport heritage.

"Until the recent past our business has continued to grow . . . however, a series of factors, in a relatively short timeframe and largely outside our control, has ultimately led to receivership," the firm said in a statement issued last night.

The statement singled out "being unable to sufficiently renegotiate occupation costs either on the high street or in the airports" as a major difficulty for the bookseller, which gets the "majority" of its business from airport sales.

A spokesman for the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) last night insisted the airport's management had "worked really really hard" to help Hughes & Hughes "get over the current cash-flow difficulties".

The airport's retail tenants pay a percentage of their turnover as rent. Airport sources said Hughes & Hughes sought and were granted a reduction in this percentage several months ago.

Concessions

A more recent request for further concessions was accepted by other landlords but turned down by the DAA. Airport sources claimed Hughes & Hughes failed to provide sufficient information.

Hughes & Hughes' statement also cited the fall in passenger numbers through Cork and Dublin airports as something that hit the retailer "particularly badly", but airport sources stressed that the booksellers' airport business "was profitable and always has been".

Other challenges identified by Hughes & Hughes included the "weakness of the economy", the exchange rate differential with sterling" and the online books revolution.

The company also used its final statement to pay tribute to the "support of its business partners", and thanked their employees for "supporting the business in these straitened times through reductions in pay and other measures, and most of all through the integrity of their endeavours in serving our many customers."

The latest accounts for Hughes & Hughes show that the bookseller posted sales of more than €37m to the 53 weeks ended March 2008, up more than €6m year-on-year.

The 2008 year also saw the company return to profit and the directors expressed confidence of "future progress" when they signed off their report in August 2008, just before the financial collapse.

The company closed the year with bank loans of more than €5.8m and shareholders' loans of €750,000. The debt is likely to have gone up since then, given the business' expansion.

Company filings also show that Ulster Bank has a number of charges registered against Hughes & Hughes.

, with the most recent in October 2008.

Irish Independent

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