House of Fraser customers react to Sports Direct takeover

Guardian |

The House of Fraser department store on Guildford High Street was popular on Friday afternoon. As the summer rain beat down outside, customers streamed in through its doors to seek shelter, meet friends and family or kill time browsing the shelves and rails.

Earlier in the day, it was announced that Sports Direct, the sportswear chain controlled by Mike Ashley, had bought the struggling retailer in a £90m rescue deal.

For customers in Guildford who had heard the news, the biggest concerns were whether the retailer would retain its upmarket reputation as well as its 17,000 staff.

A two-minute walk away in Debenhams, the only other department store on Guildford High Street in Surrey, Sports Direct has already taken over the top floor. It has built up a 29.7% stake in Debenhams over several years.

“It could be interesting days, to see what happens with the man who buys it,” said Cyril Clark, 66. “It’s a sad day to see House of Fraser in the state it’s in, it’s a good store to come to. It’s a very different brand to Sports Direct, and my concern is Mike Ashley will bring Sports Direct into places like this.”

Clark’s wife, Julia, 61, added: “It depends what he’s going to do with the brand, whether he’ll keep it as an upmarket store or changes it.

“You need the right people working for you in order to create the right environment. If Ashley is not nice to his staff he won’t attract the right staff. And if you have less discerning staff, with less experience, customers might be told incorrect information. You’d expect a store in this place in the market to give a certain level of customer service.”

Jonathan Lee, 63, echoed this sentiment: “My immediate thoughts would be if there are redundancies and if people will be asked to take lower pay.

“But maybe they can make the brand of House of Fraser continue, and I suppose this situation is the best you can hope for for any of this.”

The company’s collapse represents a wider trend whereby high street retailers battle to survive in today’s tough market, saturated by a combination of people shopping more online and wary consumers who have tightened their purse strings.

Friends Sylvie Roberts, 75, and Linda Coleman, 72, who were having a catch-up in the store, said they were delighted that House of Fraser was being saved.

“We’ve spent all day feeling very sad about the business. I think they have to do whatever they need to do to keep people employed, there’s no other choice. We’ve been shopping here for the past 50 years, buying presents and whatever. They cover everything really and the staff are lovely.”

Another shopper, Julie, who declined to give her surname, said: “I think it’s a shame because I can’t remember it not being here. I would be slightly horrified if this place became a Sports Direct. Is Guildford the right place for this? I’ve been a customer for 30 years, I meet friends here for coffee and have a browse. It has all your essentials.”

Meanwhile, social media users adopted a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the news.

“Get yourself down to House of Fraser, they’re about to start doing Slazenger umbrellas and Donnay socks at half price,” said @MrPaulRobinson on twitter.

“House of Fraser to be renamed House of Lonsdale as it is flooded with 90% off sweatshirts,” said @vilage_idoit.

“Just wait for those glorious House of Fraser giant mugs with every purchase,” said @NickJonHughes.

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