THE future of Beales hangs in the balance today after the 139-year-old department store business called in administrators.

The stores’ boss has said he is still “confident of a positive outcome” for the Bournemouth-based company.

Beales said yesterday that it had appointed KPMG as administrators. The professional services company will now look at the best way to realise value for creditors.

Beales stores are continuing to trade, although “Closing down sale” signs will appear later this week.

The Beales website was taken down for "site maintenance" ahead of the news.

Chief executive and owner Tony Brown told the Daily Echo: “We’re still in active talks with various parties and those talks continue while we go into the administration process. I’m still confident of a positive outcome.”

Beales was founded on its current site in Bournemouth in 1881. It has one of the biggest shop premises in the town and is also a key part of Poole’s Dolphin Shopping Centre.

The chain has 22 stores and around 1,300 staff across the country.

As well as disappointing Christmas trading, it has faced rising costs and high business rates – with its Bournemouth branch alone attracting a rates bill of £440,000 a year.

Mr Brown said: “While we’ve had a very positive response from all our landlords, which have included Bournemouth, the conversations with BCP Council are exceptionally difficult as they don’t want to set a precedent. The precedent would be to end this lunacy of business rates.”

He added that BCP was “no more difficult than most councils”.

Sources said the appearance of closing down sale signs would make the situation look “bleaker than it is”.
In 2016, Beales won creditors’ backing for a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) which enabled it to negotiate rent cuts and close some loss-making stores.

Mr Brown, who is on his second stint as chief executive, took control of the business in a management buyout in 2018.

Last October, Beales revealed it had made a £3million loss, but said one-off costs had disguised steady sales.

Before Christmas, it appointed KPMG to review the business, officially triggering a sales process.

Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Obviously we are very sorry to hear the news about Beales. 

“The pressures facing Beales and retail businesses in general have been well documented. We’ve offered to support Beales in any way we can and hope it manages to find a positive outcome. High street businesses are facing huge challenges on many levels.”

Former town centre councillor Bob Chapman, who has served as mayor and leader of Bournemouth council, said: “It would be very sad if Beales were to close. They and other stores are really struggling. 

“It’s high time for the government, whatever party is in control, to do something about the business rates system, which is archaic and driving a lot of retailers to the wall.”

BCP council had not commented about the business rates situation at the time of going to press.

Beales was founded in Bournemouth by John Elmes Beale in 1881.