England’s doomed Jessops camera shops: The Cannibals Feast begins
posted Friday, February 8, 2013 at 12:30 PM EST
Just after the New Year began, the largest camera retailer in the United Kingdom -- Jessops -- went into administration protection (the U.K. legal term for bankruptcy). Some 192 stores across England closed, and more than 2,000 employees lost their jobs (according to the The Daily Telegraph).
It was another hammering of Britain's High Street (the U.K. equivalent to Main Street) business community that had already seen several other large chains, such as media retailers HMV and Blockbuster UK, go under in 2012.
Now comes the news that the Jessops name, at least, will live on, although not as a brick and mortar business. Peter Jones, a U.K. entrepreneur who became a celebrity on the British reality TV show "Dragons' Den," reportedly has taken on the role of partial saviour of Jessops.
"We can confirm that we have sold the brand and certain other assets to a number of buyers, including entrepreneur Peter Jones," Rob Hunt, joint administrator for PriceWaterhouseCooper, the administrators of Jessops, told reporters.
Jones and his partners are planning to recreate Jessops as an online virtual retailer. That's the good news but what remains is the fly in the ointment.
Jones may be a knight in televised armor but he has only bought the brand name, intellectual property and some of Jessops' stock. The shops themselves are not part of the purchase nor is there any provision for the employees who lost their jobs.
That means, of course, that despite Jessops being an online presence, the old camera stores all over the U.K. will remain empty and abandoned: a grim reminder to all that the European economic crisis is far from over.
Other players have begun to circle the corpse of Jessops, too. One is the English supermarket giant Morrisons, which has just purchased seven of the old Jessops locations and will turn them into convenience shops, much like 7-Elevens in the United States. This good news is tempered by what the British call a spanner in these works.
Morrisons was the worst performer of Britain's four largest supermarket chains and with sales slipping by 2.5% in the crucial holiday period. Buying the Jessops locations is part of an effort to reenergize the Morrisons brand. These "M Local" shops -- four in London, one in Scotland and two others -- will sell snacks, glossy magazines and foodstuffs, but alas, no cameras.
And Morrisons' efforts may come to naught as there is no guarantee of the M Locals success. Other supermarkets like Sainsbury already have long established these small shops.
The nibbling away at Jessops continued with news that Hilco, a "turnaround" group, has also bought some of its assets. When the HMV chain went into administration in 2012, Hilco took control of it by buying its debt. They are now said to be "exploring" the possibility of having Jessops concessions in HMV stores. Again, this is speculative, and an attempt to revitalize a failed company. And there could be conflict between Hilco and Mr. Jones over the use of the Jessops name.
Sadly as the valuable bits of Jessops are consumed, all that will be left of this once grand camera seller will be hundreds of empty storefronts scattered across the British landscape like the bones of some dead animal.