Festive cheer for Hawick discount store staff about to lose their jobs

Christmas has come early for workers at at Hawick discount store about to shut up shop for good.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 6:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 6:36 pm
The Original Factory Shop staff, from left, Lisa Clarke, Adele Wallace, manager Vicky Ballantyne, deputy manager Kath Byers, Claire Learmont and Eleanor Yule.

The Original Factory Shop’s branch in Victoria Road is to close early next month.

That move comes after the retailer, known as Tofs for short, was served notice to leave by the building’s landlord.

The Original Factory Shop in Hawick.

It had meant the nine staff employed at the shop were facing an uncertain future. However, a new retailer has stepped into the breach and is offering some hope of festive cheer.

Huddersfield-based Poundstretcher is to take over the outlet from mid-February, as revealed in last week’s Southern Reporter, and now it has told all existing Tofs staff there that most of them, and possibly all of those wanting to stay on, will be taken back on once it moves in.

A spokesperson for the South Yorkshire firm held back from promising that all staff will be re-employed but did say: “We can confirm that we are keeping on as many of the former Original Factory Shop staff as possible.”

That’s a logical move, according to the building’s landlord James Turner, of West Yorkshire-based Turner Commercial Developments.

He said: “It makes sense to keep the Tofs staff on because it’s a similar business and they know the premises well.”

Poundstretcher will be employing 15 staff at its new Hawick outlet, its only one in the Borders and also its first in the town since it closed its High Street branch at the end of 2014.

A spokesperson for the workers said: “It’s a huge relief for the staff. It’s obviously been a worrying time.

“Losing your job at any time of the year is hard, but at Christmas it’s even harder.

“This news has certainly brought some much-needed Christmas cheer. We’re hoping that everyone who wants to stay on will be retained.”

Tofs bosses remain unhappy, though, saying they are being forced out by the building’s landlord despite trying to agree terms.

Mr Turner refutes that claim, though, saying Tofs had left it with no choice but to find a new tenant after seeking a 60% rent reduction.

That plea came after the Burnley-based company announced the closure of 32 of its stores nationwide as a result of falling profits.

Mr Turner said: “We’ve owned the premises for six years and the Original Factory Shop has been the tenant all of that time.

“We had a good relationship – there were no problems – but then back in July this year the Factory Shop dropped a bombshell on us, together with all their landlords throughout the country.

“They were entering into a company voluntary arrangement and that meant in our case the rent would be reduced by 60% and the lease term would be reduced from six years to one year.

“There was no consultation in that process, no prior notice, no discussions.

“It was a legally binding, enforced situation in which we had no say-so whatsoever, and the only minor advantage it conferred on us was the opportunity for a period of six months to find another tenant, if we so wished.

“Because of the stringent and onerous terms of the arrangement, we had no choice but to look for another tenant and we did find another tenant, Poundstretcher.

“During no part of the process has the Original Factory Shop come back to us to try and renegotiate terms, so when they say they have made every effort to negotiate with the landlord, that is not the case.

“We approached Poundstretcher, and the deal we struck with them is no way comparable to the original terms we had with the Original Factory Shop but is a slight improvement on the reduced terms.”

A spokesperson for the Original Factory Shop said: “It’s a great disappointment to have been served notice on this store.

“We tried really hard to come to a suitable agreement with the landlord, especially as this is a store that has been performing well and where we are proud to play an integral part in the community.”