But last week the positive picture painted by its 3.1 per cent like-for-like sales increase at Christmas started to fade rapidly when it reported its preliminary results for the year to September. Its like-for-likes fell 6.5 per cent and losses before non-recurring items and tax widened to£19.1m, against£9.3m the previous year. To add to its woes, the retailer is in talks with its bank to restructure its£57.4m debt – but is confident this will successfully be resolved, while vehemently denying it has, or is on the verge of, breaking its banking covenants.
Jessops’ management team knows only too well what needs to be done and its bank HSBC, which holds 15 per cent of the retailer’s shares since extending its banking facilities to 2011 in September, is also considering a debt for equity swap or even taking the company private to improve its financial standing.
Executive chairman David Adams, brought in from House of Fraser in 2007 to revive the business, has said the focus now is profit rather than market share. The need to chase cash is glaringly obvious, but if it doesn’t work Jessops will be left even more exposed to the precariousness of present market conditions.
It must be said, considerable efforts are certainly being made to reverse Jessops’ fortunes. It has closed down underperforming stores and is focusing efforts on refurbishing its remaining portfolio and improving supplier relations.
However, largely thanks to a succession of management problems in the past, the retailer has consistently failed to make the most of its market leadership. The strong performance of retailers such as Pets at Home has shown that the well-run specialists can be resilient during a trading downturn. As yet, however, Jessops has failed to capitalise on that.
Adams and his team have a Herculean task ahead of them. He is realistic about the future, saying last week: “We have a good chance, but there is no guarantee.” Jessops has come a long way since its beginnings as a Leicester-based mail order company and the proactive efforts to revive it are much welcomed. But for some in the City the collapse of the beleaguered chain is a case of when, not if. Adams’ efforts might well be too little, too late.
Charlotte Hardie is features editor of Retail Week