Department store chain Fenwick has made more than 400 employees redundant as it warns that pre-tax profits had dropped by 94%.
The store – which is the cornerstone of the Canterbury’s Whitefriars shopping precinct – is shedding backroom staff through a process of voluntary and compulsory redundancies as profits slump to just £2 million.
Fenwick’s woes represent yet another threat to the increasingly fragile looking Canterbury retail landscape which this year is witnessing the departures of chain stores like Homebase and Poundworld and the closures of independents such as Nasons, Pure Magik and Auntie Ammie’s Candy Store.
The Newcastle-based company has already closed its Windsor and Leicester stores after recording a 3.6% drop in sales.
It had been a family run firm until the end of last year when the last two Fenwicks left, leaving it in the hands of former Argos chief Robbie Feather.
He said: “We know the market is tough, but we are also actively pulling away from aggressive discounting.
“It will be another tough year, but it is what we have budgeted and what we expect.”
High Street firms have blamed a mix of factors for their atrocious year.
These include falling footfall, the attraction of low price retailers and the accelerating flight of customers to online shopping.
Fenwick currently has nine department stores including Canterbury.
A spokesman said: “Our annual results reflect the challenging market conditions all department store groups are facing, including increased competition from online retail, declining footfall on the high street, and increasingly competitive price discounting – factors that have been exacerbated by a rise in the cost of living that has led to a fall in consumers’ disposable income.
“The fact that sales fell only slightly last year demonstrates the strength of our local brand, and our product and customer service offer.
“As part of our programme we are investing in IT and other back office systems, in our flagship Newcastle store and in a new e-commerce offer, which will go live in early 2019.”