First bewilderment, then anger, now sadness: BHS, a stalwart of the high street for decades, closed its last 22 stores yesterday, ending an 88-year presence on the High Street.
Among the last of the 16 Scottish branches to close was at the St Enoch shopping centre in Glasgow which employed more than 50 staff at the time off the group’s collapse.
Here’s one retail demise that cannot be blamed on hostile takeover, high shopping centre rates or the internet. BHS was brought down by serious under-investment, failure to adapt to changing customer tastes – and a highly criticised knock-down sale for £1 by entrepreneur Sir Philip Green to a thrice failed sports car driver Dominic Chappell who knew little about retailing.
It is a deeply troubling story and one not yet over, given the mess it has left and the pension anxieties now facing thousands of staff. But BHS should also be remembered for its heyday, for the decades that it was a tried and trusted presence in the high street and for the loyalty it once commanded across generations of customers.
Many high street chains are struggling. But BHS did not need to fail. Here was a great retail name and a brand that commanded an international following.
These are tough times indeed for our high streets and the enormous challenges that retailers face in keeping abreast of internet shopping and the inexhaustible customer appetite for novelty – while still expecting traditional favourites to go on for ever.
Amid the bitter exchanges over its demise, BHS deserves to be remembered for its decades of success, the dedication of its staff – and the customer loyalty it so long enjoyed.