Focus chain flounders as housing slump bites

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THE future of employees at the Leven branch of Focus (DIY) remains hanging in the balance after the gardening and home specialists went into administration last week.

Bosses at Focus, which employs 3920 staff nationwide at 175 outlets, announced on Wednesday it was likely to default on its credit facility and said it had “no alternatives that could be explored any further” than to be put in the hands of administrators from Ernst and Young.

The Mail understands 16 people are employed by the Leven branch at the Riverside Road retail park, which opened just over six years ago.

However, there was some hope jobs may be saved after it was revealed on Friday that 31 stores had been bought by B&Q owners Kingfisher Plc for £23 million.

The details of stores purchased as part of the deal have not been released, so it is unknown if the Leven branch is one of them.

Other businesses, including supermarket chain Morrison’s and millionaire Chris Dawson, owner of The Range chain of homeware stores, have also expressed an interest in buying some of the beleaguered sites.

In the meantime, all Focus stores will remain open as the administrators look for further buyers.

Simon Allport of Ernst and Young explained “low consumer confidence” and a “very weak housing transaction market” had impacted on Focus.

He added: “Despite management’s actions to tightly control costs and restructure the operations, unfortunately it has not been possible for the business to continue to trade outside of insolvency.

“Focus will continue to trade as we look for a buyer for the group and its stores.

“It is very much business as usual and we are grateful to all the group’s loyal customers, suppliers and employees for their continued support.”

When contacted by the Mail, the manager of the Leven branch said she had been instructed not to speak to the media.

However, one worker did speak to the Mail anonymously and revealed everyone was shocked.

The employee said: “Everything is up in the air right now.

“We were told yesterday (last Tuesday). It came completely out of the blue to us.

“Nobody expected it. I don’t even think the manager knew.”

The Leven branch, which is 22,500 square feet in size with a 12,500 square feet garden centre, was given a fanfare opening on January 28, 2005. It was the first store to open at the newly re-developed Hawkslaw Business Complex and employed 33 members of staff at the time.

Focus (DIY) was founded in 1987 and has annual sales of around £450million. However, its most recent figures showed a pre-tax loss of £21million for the year to February 2010.