Norfolk electrical firm Bennetts goes into administration

Hundreds of workers are facing an uncertain future after Norwich-based electrical retailer Bennetts went into administration.

Stores shut early yesterday as staff were given the news that administrators PKF had been called in and that their jobs were on the line.

Managing director Mike Jones last night said he was too 'shattered' to speak after the day he had endured.

A press conference is being held this morning at the firm's head office in Bowthorpe.

The electrical company employs 300 people and has 14 stores across the country, including outlets in Norwich, Costessey, Great Yarmouth, Holt, Cromer, King's Lynn, Diss and Dereham.

While both Mr Jones and the administrators were staying tight-lipped ahead of this morning's further announcement, staff said they had been told a buyer was being sought.

One worker at the Bennetts store at Costessey's Longwater Retail Park said: 'It came completely out of the blue, we got a telephone call at 12pm saying we had gone into administration.

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'We are not being told a lot, but they said they are trying to find a buyer for the company. I asked what about our wages and they said they couldn't tell us anything.

'It came all of sudden. We sales people had noticed a few problems with stock over the last few weeks, but we hadn't thought much of it.

'Retail hasn't been good, though. We thought it was down to the bad weather, but it hasn't picked up this month.

'The people who have been coming in have been getting things fixed rather than buying something willy nilly. When I first started here you'd get people coming in who would decide there and then they were going to buy a 42-inch plasma screen TV and that isn't happening now.'

Caroline Williams, chairman of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'It's dreadful news. It's a shock and very sad that this has happened to a company which has been so supportive of developing in Norfolk and has so many stores locally.

'It's a worrying time for staff and for other retailers which operate in the retail parks Bennetts is based in, because the mix of stores does pull people into them.

'We have to hope there is a buyer out there who will come in.'

Recent figures from the British Retail Consortium showed a worse-than-expected 0.4pc decrease in like-for-like sales for the high street as a whole, compared with February 2010. Mrs Williams said: 'This shows just how fragile Norfolk businesses can be. Last year lots of businesses restructured and started cutting costs but the longer the difficult period continues the less resources they have got to draw on.'

Simon Wright, Norwich South MP said it was very bad news for the county and the city.

He said: 'Bennetts is a firm with a long history in the county and a firm with a strong reputation. Everyone will be shocked by this news.

'My thoughts are with the workers who are facing a very uncertain time and I would certainly encourage them to get in touch with me.

'I very much hope a buyer can be found that will continue the retail business and keep those workers in their jobs.'

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'This is obviously worrying news and it will be a very anxious time for workers and their families.

'The most important thing in tough economic times like these, are jobs and everybody will want to do all that they can to help in this situation.'

Visit this site for news from the press conference later today.

Customers with concerns should call the helpline on 0845 458 2000.

• Are you a Bennetts worker? Call Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email to tell us your views.