Bullough family invests £1m in McEwen’s of Perth

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THE owners of one of Scotland’s last independent department store chains are drawing up plans to invest £1 million in its flagship shop in Perth.

John Bullough, managing director of McEwen’s of Perth, said his family would expand the store’s cosmetics floor and develop a rooftop restaurant.

The plans come as the company confirmed it is in consultation with staff prior to closing its branch in Inverness due to poor trading. The firm has five stores in total, including sites in Aberdeen, Ballater and Oban.

The retailer has suffered significant losses in recent years. In the year to 28 February 2012, the firm narrowed its pre-tax loss to £234,118 from £411,806 in the previous 12 months. Sales in both years were flat at £5.8m.

McEwen’s opened 145 years ago and was acquired by the Bullough family in 1982.

Bullough said the company was “finalising” plans for the cosmetics hall and restaurant in Perth and that the shareholders – Bullough and his wife, Lady Georgina – would finance the expansion themselves. He said: “We are clearly looking towards significant investment to ensure McEwen’s is ready to deal with the retail challenges.

“We have had to respond to a very quickly changing retail market. What was acceptable and what was possible five or six years ago is no longer the correct template for retail.”

He said that the company had a “significant reliance” on concessions – branded outlets that rent space within department stores to offer their goods – but, since 2008, a number of these had “reduced significantly, been sold or resold or collapsed completely”.

“That has been a significant challenge for the business,” said Bullough. “If you have several hundreds of thousands of pounds of business go under, we have to work quickly to substitute that turnover elsewhere.”

The retailer yesterday launched its children’s store-within-a-store, Mini McEwen’s. The “destination shopping attraction” consists of a handmade shopfit by local craftsmen inspired by fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, and includes an interactive feature wall.

The firm has also invested in the expansion of its food hall in partnership with farm shop Loch Leven’s Larder.

“There is no room for mediocre retailing anymore,” Bullough warned. “There have been a lot of department stores like ours in the UK that have closed in the last 12 months – and there will be more to come.”