BEALES could be set to go into administration within days.

The Bournemouth-based department store chain, which put itself up for sale last month, will make the move if no deal is done.

Its boss said it was struggling with difficult trading and the “lunacy” of high business rates – and that he hoped the business would emerge "stronger but leaner".

Chief executive and owner Tony Brown said he believed the company could be “restructured for a profitable future” but could not say which of its 22 stores were likely to survive.

He said pre-Christmas trading had been disappointing, with sales weak in the company’s home town of Bournemouth and in Poole, where it traded well last year.

Mr Brown said: “We are confident that we have a solution for the business that will create a stronger if leaner Beales.”

The company has filed notice at the High Court of its intention to appoint administrators. The move gives an insolvent business protection from its creditors while the administrators seek a sustainable future for the company.

Mr Brown said: “It is difficult trading on the high street. The difficulties are exacerbated by the lunacy of the business rates system. We pay £440,000 a year in business rates on our Bournemouth store. You can have a sensible conversation with the landlord but it's impossible to have a sensible conversation with the council.

“We hope to have a stronger business at the end of the process. I can't predict which stores will stay and which stores won't because it all depends on landlords and local government.”

He said he understood the news would be distressing for the company’s staff. The company employs around 1,300 people directly, with another 300 working at concessions in its shops.

“We’re going through a process and we hope to be able to restructure the business for a profitable future,” he said.

Mr Brown added: "Christmas trading was disappointing. Bournemouth and Poole were both disappointing.

"In Poole, the feedback from my store manager was that the problems with the bus station took their toll. Bournemouth continues to be a very difficult place to trade."

Poole's bus station, which forms the main entrance to the Dolphin Shopping Centre, has been blighted by complaints about antisocial behaviour in recent times.

Mr Brown said the company’s latest store, in Fareham, had traded well. The smaller branch has been seen as a more sustainable model for the company’s future.

Before Christmas, Beales announced it had hired professional services giant KPMG to conduct a review of the business, triggering a formal sale process. It said then it was looking to cut costs and could consider closing a small number of stores.

Founded in Bournemouth in 1881 by John Elmes Beale, Beales has been through several turbulent years.

The former public company was taken into private hands in 2015 when investor Andrew Perloff bought it for £1.2million.

The following year, it won backing from creditors for a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), an insolvency procedure which enabled it to win rent cuts and close some loss-making stores.

Tony Brown returned to the business for a second stint as chief executive in 2017 and took on the business in a management buyout the following year.

Last October, the company revealed it had made a £3m loss, but said one-off costs disguised the “big achievement” of keeping sales steady.