It emerged today that property tycoon Clive Coombes could save up to 180 Comet stores from closure if his bid is accepted by administrator Deloitte. Retail Week takes a look at the implications.

Clive Coombes is an enigma. The property tycoon, 43, has two businesses – CC Business Angels and Meridian Wholesale Limited – based on opposite sides of Southampton and just a few miles from the Sandbanks peninsula, known as Britain’s most expensive property market.

CC Business Angels, which Coombes owns, offers investment, invoice factoring and buyout services as well as insolvency advice. And that is about the sum of the public information which exists on the businessman.

Sources close to administrator Deloitte have confirmed that Meridian, which Coombes is using to mount the bid, has been in contact and Coombes is said to be backed by a number of “private individuals”.  

Today’s news has sparked hope among staff that stores and jobs can be saved, however, hopes may be premature. Coombes is not well known in retail although is said to have links with white goods specialists Euronics which has launched a timely marketing campaign championing its goods this week.

Coombes said his message to Comet staff is “tell them there’s a little bit of hope.” Not exactly an unequivocal statement.

However, if Coombes were to mount a successful bid it would be a remarkable turnaround for a business many had deemed doomed before it even entered administration.

Coombes outlined his plan for the business to The Sun. “We would cut down the distribution depots and trim the top levels of management,” he said.

Coombes questioned whether previous owners OpCapita had “really tried” to turnaround Comet and managing partner Henry Jackson has come under heavy criticism for not explaining the private investment firm’s actions.

However, it is unclear whether Coombes’ links with Euronics would mean he could get a sceptical supply base back on side and, crucially, secure long-term credit insurance.

If the South Coast entrepreneur emerges as a true white knight, he will become a renowned figure in retail. If the bid fails, he will fall back into the pack alongside similar figures who looked as if they might be able to save Woolworths in 2008.

The future of Comet is still hanging in the balance, but while the credibility of Coombes’ bid is yet unknown, at least he has provided a glimmer of hope for staff.