BHS - circling in the drain


In the background at work today – one of the perks of having duel screens and nobody sitting behind me - I’ve been following the Guardian’s live commentary on the unfolding BHS administration crisis.

Following and grimacing, that is.

Here are some excerpts.

[The Guardian’s] financial editor Nils Pratley has some stern words of advice for Dominic Chappell, boss of BHS owner Retail Acquisitions […]

Nils notes how Chappell is “crassly missing the required tone” when he writes in an email to staff: “I would like to say it has been a real pleasure working with all of you on the BHS project, one I will never forget.”

“No, Mr Chappell, BHS was never a “project” for the staff. It is how they earned their living and made plans to fund their retirement,” writes Nils.

Exactly. This isn’t just an academic talking point for 11,000 people – it’s their livelihoods.

Which reminds me.  As a student nearly ten years ago, my partner had a troubling (yet fortunately brief) experience working for BHS in the run up to Christmas, a job which culminated in her standing in the store front, trying to tempt disinterested shoppers with cheese-flavoured popcorn. What’s worse is that it was all a tragic misunderstanding and the job she thought she’d been offered was upstairs in the office tinkering with spreadsheets and pushing paper around.

When I revealed to her this evening that I’d mentioned ‘popcorn-gate’ in a draft blog post, she (quite rightly) shot back at me noting that I wasn’t without experience when it came to flip-flopping between student jobs like some sort of walking disaster. That’s generally known as ‘PC World/CarphoneWarehouse/Marks&Spencer-gate’ in our household.

Still, I always managed to fall on my feet – however ill-deserved it might have been.

Mary Dejevsky neatly observes that the writing has been on the wall for BHS for some time now:

Comparisons are made with Woolworths – another out-of-date, out-of-time, high-street fixture that folded in 2008. And to be honest, if you even so much as crossed the threshold of a BHS in the last couple of years, you could sense that death was probably close.

Never has a truer word been spoken. You could practically hear the death rattle. I’ve wandered through a couple of branches of BHS in the last year or so, usually as a cut through or to kill time when all else had failed. On both occasions, it was eerily quiet save for the odd disillusioned member of the grey-haired brigade wandering aimlessly and – you could tell – with absolutely no intention of making a purchase. The décor and goods were tired and half-heartedly displayed. It was more akin to a half-assed pop-up store selling cheap calendars in readiness for the new year. It wasn’t just dreary – it was depressing.

BHS has fallen into that dangerous middle ground that department stores often occupy these days – trying to be everything to everyone. The sad reality is that it simply wound up being nothing to anyone (save for the poor staff, of course).

Once a respected stalwart of the high street and particularly favoured by oldies, BHS has failed dismally to establish itself as anything other than a soulless section of the high street. Now it’s the kind of place that any consumer under 60 only finds themselves in as a result of a mistake or a sudden rain shower. The brand has spent the last decade or so slowly being consumed by blandness and irrelevance.

And that’s such a shame.

Back on Oxford Street, [the Guardian’s] Damien Gayle, has been sounding out more shoppers on what went wrong at BHS.

“What’s BHS - is that a sandwich?” asked Jason Knight, 21, as he and his friends drank coffee outside Starbucks. He appeared to only be half joking.

But his friend Amy West, 23, was at least aware of the retail chain’s existence. Had she ever shopped there?

“I have, when I was a kid though, my nan used to take me there. Me and my nan used to pop into the shopping centre and she used to say: ‘I just have to go into BHS’.”

And no doubt that was to spend a penny.

public toilets

What else do younger shoppers have to say about BHS?

Jasmin Steiner, 20, and Holly Hicks Holcroft, 18, [pictured] were also browsing Carnaby Street’s boutiques.


Asked how they felt about BHS’s financial troubles, Hicks Holcroft replied:

It doesn’t really bother me - it’s no Woolworths. Bring on change.

“ I can remember going there with my nan. It was that sort of shop that you go to with your nan and your parents.

“It’s a shame I guess but it’s making room for more stuff.”

How heartless.

By the way, Holly, did you get that hat from BHS?

Pity. You could have taken it back.  Be right back


  1. Hi Michael,

    This is Pippa, Holly's best friend. I just want to say that what you've written (be it true) is insensitive and a little...kooky :/ It makes me a little uncomfortable using such a derogatory emoji, what were you implying with that? I am.... disgusted. BHS is for trailer trash and people who watch hollyoaks after dark !! you've been beaned you little rat


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