By shaun lowthorpe Business editor
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Around 2,000 jobs at camera chain Jessops are under threat after the group collapsed into administration today.
Jessops traces it roots back to a chemist store opened in Leicester 130 years ago.
It was in 1935 that Frank Jessop transformed it into a photography shop, in the early days mainly involved in hiring and selling 16mm cine films.
The company quickly grew under the leadership of Jessop’s son, Alan Jessop, who transformed it into a cut-price retailer of photographic equipment.
By the 1970s, it had outgrown its premises and moved to a new 20,000 sq ft site on Hinckley Road in Leicester, which was named as the largest photography store in the world by Guinness World Records. The shop later closed in 2008.
A second store followed at the start of the 1980s on London’s Finchley Road and as personal cameras became more popular and affordable for the masses, the firm quickly expanded to more than 50 shops.
The company initially reaped the rewards of the boom in digital cameras, investing heavily in digital technology as the medium took over from traditional film, and by 2001 the number of Jessops branches on the high street had swelled to more than 200.
A year later, Jessops announced it was to open a further 40 stores, creating 400 new jobs and taking the total to more than 250.
As Britain’s only specialist nationwide camera retailer it sold brands including Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus and Sony.
As well as offering a wide range of digital cameras and accessories, the company provided a service for customers to develop digital pictures in its stores, and introduced Jessops branded paper for home printing.
And along with camera equipment, the business also stocked digital and analogue camcorders, binoculars and darkroom and studio equipment.
The firm had ceased being a family-run business in 1996 after Alan Jessop retired and was sold in a management buyout.
Then in 2002, Dutch bank ABN Amro’s venture capital arm bought Jessops for £116 million.
But by the middle of the decade, the company began to struggle to compete when other high street and internet competitors entered the market.
In 2004, it was floated on the London Stock Exchange.
A major overhaul followed in 2007 along with a swathe of store closures.
In 2009, Jessops came close to collapse but was rescued by its main lender HSBC in a controversial debt-for-equity swap that saw it taken off the stock market.
Since then, Jessops has been revamping stores and boosting its online business as part of efforts to get back on track.
It rolled out a completely new format with a new black store frontage and so-called play tables that allowed customers to look at cameras, in a move away from traditional cabinet displays.
But today’s announcement shows this has not been enough to keep it in business.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has been appointed to the group, which is Britain’s only specialist nationwide camera retailer, with nearly 200 stores.
It marks the first high-profile retail collapse of 2013 and comes soon after consumer electricals chain Comet hit the wall, sparking more than 6,000 job losses.
Jessops, which has its headquarters in Leicester, has suffered in recent years from online competition and the boom in camera phones, which has hit demand for digital cameras.
Administrator Rob Hunt said PwC was holding discussions with stakeholders to see if the business could be preserved.
He said: “Trading in the stores is hoped to continue today, but is critically dependent on these ongoing discussions. However, in the current economic climate, it is inevitable that there will be store closures.”
PwC said the company’s core market had seen a “significant decline” in 2012 and its position had “deteriorated” in the run-up to Christmas, as a result of reducing confidence in UK retail.
Forecasts for 2013 indicated the decline would continue, PwC added.
PwC said extra funding was made available to the company, but Jessops did not generate the profits it had planned over Christmas.
Mr Hunt said discussions to raise additional financial support for the company had been held between the directors, lenders and suppliers over the last few days.
But the directors had appointed administrators in light of “irreconcilable differences”.
PwC said Jessops was not in a position to honour customer vouchers at present, and it would also not accept returned goods.