Bathstore, the specialist bathroom retailer, has appointed administrators after failing to find a buyer.
“Despite significant investment into the business over the past five years, Bathstore has struggled to overcome the well-documented challenges facing the UK retail sector,” said Ryan Grant, one of the restructuring partners at BDO who will oversee the administration.
The company, headquartered in Hertfordshire but owned by Arkansas-based private bank Stephens, has 135 stores across the UK and employs 531 people. According to its last set of accounts, it had sales of £140m.
Mr Ryan said BDO intended to keep Bathstore trading while it seeks a buyer for the business. He added that “subject to available stock” the company expected to be able to satisfy “the majority” of outstanding customer orders. It has stopped offering installation services.
In 2012, Bathstore was carved out of Wolseley, the builders’ merchant now known as Ferguson, and sold to private equity house Endless. Stephens backed a management buy-out two years later, at an undisclosed price.
But specialist homeware retailers have been hit by the slowdown in housing transactions, to which bathroom refurbishment projects are closely correlated, and more recently by general consumer uncertainty. The company warned about falling consumer confidence in its last published accounts, which ran to July 31 2017.
The infrequent and discretionary nature of bathroom purchases sits uneasily with the high level of fixed costs involved in running a chain of stores, and the market is dominated by DIY chains and big builders’ merchants.
Better Bathrooms, another small chain, also went into administration earlier this year citing poor trading conditions, although its assets were subsequently acquired by online retailer Buy It Direct.
Bathroom specialists have also faced competition from online-only retailers of sanitaryware which have lower fixed costs; according to GlobalData, companies such as Soak.com, Victoria Plum, Victorian Plumbing and Plumbworld will account for nearly a quarter of the UK bathroom furniture market this year. Annual revenue at Victorian Plumbing alone has grown more than fivefold since 2014, to £120m.