THE boss of Beales has said the business could be made more sustainable by opening branches when other chains are closing them.

More than 300 people queued outside the former Marks & Spencer in Fareham to see it reopen as a Beales on Friday.

Chief executive Tony Brown, who took ownership of the Bournemouth-based company in a management buyout last year, said: “Despite the challenges, we have confidence in what we’re doing.”

Britain’s biggest department stores have suffered severely from the crisis on Britain’s high streets. Both Debenhams and House of Fraser endured spells in administration and are poised to close stores, while M&S is also closing shops amidst falling sales.

But Mr Brown said Beales – which closed some stores after agreeing a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) with creditors in 2016 – was “forward-facing” and could better cover its costs through opening new stores in the right places.

“We’re trying to build the business to maintain it and make it sustainable,” he said.

After Mr Brown returned to Beales for a second stint as chief executive in 2017, the company bought the former McEwens in Perth. After the buyout, it bought the former Palmers stores in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Mr Brown said he had been eyeing Fareham as a site for years and had tried to acquire other units there. He described it as “a full-line department store with the exception of cosmetics”.

He is from the area and said his mother would be a customer.

He praised the team who had got the store ready for opening. “We’ve had the shop for two weeks and gone from zero to a full department store,” he added.

“It looks great. It’s getting a lot of interest around Fareham, Gosport, Portsmouth, and even all the way from West End.

“It’s a difficult time to launch anything, especially this close to Christmas, but we’re confident,” he added.

Fareham's mayor, Cllr Pamela Bryant, cut the ribbon, along with honorary president Nigel Beale, whose family founded the company in 1881.