Jobs plea from Bennetts’ staff in Norwich
'We're willing workers who do not want to sit around claiming benefits' – that was the message to prospective buyers of Bennetts from staff told they were being made redundant.
Bennetts – one of East Anglia's largest independent retailers, with 300 staff – called in administrators PKF on Thursday afternoon after being hit by a series of setbacks, including competition with online retailers and rising rents.
The company's head office is in Barnard Road in Bowthorpe and their 16 stores include Hall Road in Norwich and Longwater Retail Park in Costessey. All 16 stores and websites have been closed for stock taking, with no new orders being taken.
On Friday PKF said it remained 'confident' of securing a quick sale of the business after entering talks with a number of potential buyers, including Bennetts management.
David Merrygold, PKF corporate recovery partner, said redundancies were 'inevitable', though he was unable to confirm details of job losses. But staff feared the redundancies would be widespread.
One Norwich worker told the Evening News a letter had been sent out via e-mail which said the managers would keep their jobs but everyone else would be made redundant.
He said: 'From what I gather, there is a buyer in the pipeline and we are really hoping that they will take on the workers. Hopefully there can be some way they can consider the people made redundant first and give them the opportunity to get their jobs back.
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'We are not the sort of people who want to sit around claiming benefits. We want to work for a living and to take the business forward.
'We all feel bad for each other and we've been told it could be eight to 12 weeks until we get paid, which isn't easy when you've got a mortgage and families to support.'
But he said the workers who have lost their jobs are angry that the managers of the stores have been kept on, while they are now left struggling to pay their mortgages. He said: 'That absolutely stinks.'
Kenny Bowley, 28, called the store where he worked in Costessey yesterday and was told that he was going to be made redundant, but his manager was keeping his job.
'I am not happy about it. We were given false hope. They say they are going to get a buyer and then 24 hours later we are being told we have lost our jobs.
'I love the company. It is one of the best companies I have worked for. I liked the guys I worked for and the management. But it's the way they have got rid of us.'
Mr Merrygold said he was 'confident' of securing a 'successful outcome' for the business, adding: 'We are already in discussions with a number of parties and are hopeful that we will conclude a sale of the business within the next two weeks.'
Customers with queries over orders are being directed to a telephone hotline and will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he added.
Bennetts managing director Mike Jones said the company had been hit by a lack of consumer confidence, rising rents and competition from online retailers and supermarkets.
In November, shortly after the release of its Christmas catalogue, a credit insurer withdrew its support, leaving the company unable to meet many orders over the key festive trading period, leading to the appointment of PKF.
Mr Jones added: 'My fear is that as time goes by you will see more pressure for cheap online solutions to sell products as opposed to traditional retailers showcasing products with the staff service and everything that goes with it.
'The pressure will be on retailers because more and more people now find it comfortable to buy online.'
Bennetts' websites, which include 24electric.com and Tribaluk.com, have also been closed and are among the assets being sold by PKF.
Norwich's Panasonic store, which is operated by Bennetts, was also closed yesterday, but could be reopened by the Japanese electronics firm and run by new partners.
The customer hotline telephone number is 0845 4582000.
Have you been affected by the news? Contact Evening News reporter Annabelle Dickson on 01603 772426 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.