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| Furniture firm faces union fury after more Irish stores close

Furniture firm faces union fury after more Irish stores close

Scottish-based furniture group Reid has closed three more stores in Ireland, putting about 15 jobs in doubt and taking the total number of shop closures this year to a third of its UK and Ireland estate.

The two closures in Dublin, plus one in Newry in Northern Ireland in the past few days, mean that the company has now closed seven stores in Ireland since June. Six of the closures have been in the Republic, reflecting the extreme weakness of its consumer economy. Reid has almost certainly ceded its position as number one furniture retailer in the country.

The Sunday Herald also understands that Irish staff have submitted a collective grievance against the company through trade union Mandate and have threatened industrial action. The exact reasons behind the grievance are unclear, but one member of staff referred to frustrations over the handling of the store closures. It is understood that the stores in the Republic were closed abruptly, both on this and the previous occasion, without prior notice being given to staff.

“Sometimes things are not handled in the appropriate manner,” said a staff member. “It would be fair to say that there are a couple of [Reid management] people that would not be on my list of favourites at the moment.”

Together with three store closures in the UK – at Hamilton, Straiton in Edinburgh, and Carlisle – around the same time as the previous Irish purges of Galway, Sligo, Limerick and Cork, Reid has cut its retail estate from 35 stores to 25 this year. This has led to 35 redundancies even before the latest round of cutbacks and will go down as one of its toughest years since it was set up in Glasgow in 1970 by Sam Reid.

In 2008, the year in which Reid was taken over by South African group Steinhoff, the company closed its longstanding furniture manufacturing base at Hillington, near Paisley, with 60 redundancies. Still the largest furniture retailer in Scotland, it now gets a large amount of its furniture from another Steinhoff site in Wales.

Steinhoff, whose other UK furniture chains include Harveys, The Bed Shed, Sleepmasters and Bensons For Beds, recently announced a £128 million fall in UK revenues to £720m in its results for the year ended June 30. This will be partly due to the previous round of Reid store closures.

The group described its UK business as “resilient”, having weathered weak consumer spending during the first half of 2010. It described the households goods division, of which Reid is part, as having “stable margins”, with store closures presumably helping to offset severe weather conditions, increased freight costs and the weakness of the pound.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald in July, Reid managing director Iain Stewart said that he still ran the company with a strong degree of autonomy from the Glasgow headquarters, only ceding functions like payroll and human resources to the UK Steinhoff hub in London.

Stewart moved the company’s marketing functions out of house for the first time in June, taking on the services of Newcastle-based agency Black & White and dispensing with marketing director Ann Gibb. He said during the interview that Reid had been looking for a more sophisticated approach to marketing. Black & White also does creative work for Bed Shed.

Mandate and Reid both failed to return calls in time for publication.

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