Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The plan will leave Thorntons with around 180 to 200 company-owned stores, although in the majority of locations it hopes franchisees will open outlets.

It is the latest blow to the high street after the failure of chains such as Habitat and Oddbins in recent weeks.

Chains such as HMV, Game and JJB Sports, which have long been the mainstay of UK high streets, are also slimming down their store estates. And Mothercare said recently that it would axe 110 shops in order to focus its trading on out-of-town locations.

The Thorntons strategy review, led by new chief executive Jonathan Hart, will see the company increasingly focus on its commercial division, which sells Thorntons-branded chocolate through other retailers, and grow online sales.

The review also aims to make the business less dependent on seasonal events such as Christmas and Easter by increasing the number of gifts it sells.

Mr Hart said the strategy was the right one because he sees the current weakness in high street footfall and consumer sentiment continuing.

The closure of the stores could put between 750 and 1,125 jobs at risk, but Mr Hart said the company would try to find staff alternative roles wherever possible.

The review said its stores needed an overhaul after a recent lack of investment and changes in shopper behaviour, as they visit the high street less regularly in favour of supermarkets and internet shopping.

Although it still thinks its own stores will remain an important part of its future, it said selling through other retailers will become its main sales channel over the next three years.

It will revamp its products with gifts for under £5 for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries to help broaden its appeal throughout the year and will develop a new flagship boxed chocolate brand next year. It will start offering free tastings in-stores in the next couple of months.

The group also aims to make efficiency savings at its factories and supply chain in a bid to save £2 million a year. However, closing the company-owned stores will cost it between £4.2 million and £4.8 million.



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