Union officials have reacted with fury to Wilko’s announcement that the retailer is shutting 15 stores this year.
GMB union called the move, which threatens 330 jobs in Britain, ’another nail in the High Street’s coffin’.
Wilko, which admitted the way people shop is ‘changing’, was hammered by the pandemic despite being allowed to open as an ‘essential retailer’.
For the year to February 2021, it made a pre-tax profit of £4.4million — down 61.4 per cent year-on-year.
The firm said the branches will close when their leases end after favourable terms could not be agreed. It has more than 400 branches across the UK and is investing heavily in online retail.
Planned closures include Shipley, Bournemouth and Stockton next month, Scunthorpe in March, Grantham and Redditch in May, Rotherham, Skegness and Sutton Coldfield in June, Llanelli in August, Merthyr Tydfil in September and Cleethorpes in October. Orpington and Edmonton Green in London will also shut.
Roger Jenkins, GMB national officer, thundered: ‘These closures are devastating for Wilko workers and the communities who use them.
‘It’s yet another nail in the High Street’s coffin and GMB calls on councils and landlords to review commercial leases and offer lower rents.
Wilko said the stores affected will close as leases end and favourable terms cannot be agreed, adding it will not affect its new openings or stores relocation programme
Wilko: Popular chain that is still owned by the founding family since they opened first branch in 1930
Wilko, formerly known as Wilkinson Hardware Stores and Wilkinson Cash Store, was founded in Leicester by James Kemsey Wilkinson in 1930.
The first branch opened at 151 Charnwood Street, Leicester, in 1930, and a second came two years later in nearby Wigston Magna.
There was a steady demand for its homeware and household products and by the outbreak of World War Two there were a total of nine branches.
The chain has grown rapidly in recent years, and cut costs by taking over redundant stores rather than building new ones.
Today the chain remains in the ownership of the founding family and has more than 400 branches in the UK.
There are more than 14,000 own-branded products across the Wilko range which account for half of its annual sales.
Recently the company has been investing heavily in its online offering, wilko.com.
‘Empty High Streets and shopping centres are in no one’s interest and but with 400 shops a week closing, this is inevitable, unless the costs of premises can be reduced. GMB will now meet with Wilko members to discuss our next steps.’
Jerome Saint-Marc, Wilko’s chief executive said: ‘Our history is steeped in serving our customers and communities going back to 1930 but there’s no denying the way people shop with us and where they want to shop with us is changing.
‘As a business we’re evolving and this includes working with landlords for more favourable terms, as well as looking at locations and store formats.
‘We’ll continue to pull together to make our business better to secure the future of over 16,000 team members.
‘We’ll be doing everything we can to support our affected team members who will be offered any available positions in nearby stores.
‘We apologise to those communities where stores are closing but will continue to offer them everything they need in nearby stores or via wilko.com.’
Wilko said 11 of the stores have an alternative Wilko within five miles.
The High Street suffered further woes over Christmas, with fears over Covid persuading shoppers to go online instead.
Christmas Eve footfall plunged by 21 per cent compared to 2019, although it was still 30 per cent better than a year ago.
The UK’s retail parks fared better than its High Streets, helping push overall footfall across the country up by nearly 14 per cent compared with a week ago, Springboard found.
The trend continued after Christmas too, with footfall in a wet and cold central London 56 per cent down on December 28, a Saturday, in 2019.
Around 14.5 per cent of High Street store locations remained empty by the end of the year, while shopping centres were worse at 19.4 per cent.
The collapse of major brands such as Debenhams and Topshop owner Arcadia at the end of 2020 helped increase the number of empty sites.
Last month, iconic department store Selfridges has been sold in a £4billion deal to retailer Signa Holding and Thai property company Central Group.
A Wilkos store in Chester town centre in the store’s older branding which has now been replaced
But elsewhere there has been better news, with Next unveiling sales had jumped again as it updated profit forecasts.
M&S is also expected to reveal positive news at its trading update on Thursday, after its shares rallied as analysts suggested the group was in the midst of a long-awaited ‘turnaround’.
New life is also being breathed into the High Streets thanks to the arrival of new leisure firms keen to offer customers new experiences including mini-golf, indoor go karts and even virtual darts.
Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, said things were looking up for the High Street.
He said: ‘You can’t help but see renewed optimism when strong retailers are getting plenty of opportunities and landlords are working really hard to ensure their proposition is really relevant.
‘There has been a shift in power away from landlords somewhat back towards the retailers and hospitality.
‘It feels like there has also been some reflection during the pandemic which should have a really positive outcome for consumers.’
But Mr Lim highlighted the picture ‘varies notably’ between types of locations.
He said: ‘It is important to highlight that obviously not everywhere has been impacted by the pandemic in the same way.
Wilko was established in 1930. Pictured is an early example of one of the chain’s store
‘The trend of people shopping nearer in suburban High Streets around London and other big cities has definitely continued, as has the pull of big flagship shopping centres, like Birmingham Bullring, compared with smaller ones.’
David Fox, co-head of Colliers International’s retail agency, said demand is still strong from the best retailers but demand from other sectors has helped landlords find operators for some potentially tricky sites.
He said: ‘Your best Topshop stores have already been snapped up because Zara, Primark, Next, River Island and others are all still looking for opportunities.
‘But these businesses are now also in a position to be quite picky as vacancy levels are higher and that can leave landlords in challenging positions with other sites.
‘You are definitely seeing work take place to better utilise former department stores, for example, because there are challenges in finding one tenant who could come in and just replace Debenhams or someone like that.’
He added some leisure firms have taken on former department store sites, repurposing them, such as the former Debenhams store in Wandsworth, south London, which was reopened with a go-kart track, indoor bowling and a trampoline park by Gravity.
Source: Daily Mail UK