Fall of an Empire

Fall of an Empire

Workers leaving the Redcats UK building in Canal Road in Bradford after hearing the news of job losses at the company

Workers leaving the Redcats UK building in Canal Road in Bradford after hearing the news of job losses at the company

Workers leaving the Redcats UK building in Canal Road in Bradford after hearing the news of job losses at the company

Workers leaving the Redcats UK building in Canal Road in Bradford after hearing the news of job losses at the company

First published in News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Business Reporter

Changing lifestyles, the advance of technology and different social habits lie at the root of the demise of one of Bradford's most famous names, Empire Stores, which has become a dinosaur in the modern touch-button retail marketplace.

The company has suffered from declining sales and mounting competition from other forms of retailing as shoppers have switched their allegiance from the old fashioned mail order catalogue with its reliance on neighbourhood agents in favour of internet shopping and discount high street shops, such as Primark and Peacocks.

Also, there are many more forms of finance available to people seeking credit and the concept of the weekly payment for a catalogue item has become outmoded Empire Stores has a long and proud history. It was founded in 1831 by Italian immigrant Antonio Fattorini who came to Britain after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and made his living as a travelling peddler selling cheap jewellery, scissors, razors and knives before renting a stall in the central market in Leeds for 1s 3d (6p) a day.

The business moved to Bradford in 1846 when Antonio and his son of the same name felt that the wool city was ready for another jewellery and silversmiths shop, and Fattorini and Sons quickly built a reputation for the quality and prices of its products.

In 1852 a forerunner of the Empire Stores business emerged when a watch club offering customers 20 weeks of credit was set up and run through shops in Bradford, Harrogate and Skipton.

By 1907 this had grown into a large mail order business and the name Empire Stores was registered in 1909 - and a retailing legend was born. It moved to its Canal Road headquarters in 1931 where at its peak about 2,000 people worked.

In 1960 Empire Stores (Bradford) Ltd., was listed on the Stock Exchange.

The Fattorini family retained an interest in the business for 160 years until it was sold to the French company SA Redoute Catalogue of Roubaix - Bradford's twin town - in 1991. In recent years Empire Stores has had an uphill struggle to compete and customers have drifted away into other forms of shopping.

Even union representatives seem resigned to the closure acknowledging that the business case for the move was very strong.

Estimated losses at Empire Stores were about £8 million last year and there are few prospects of any revival in its fortunes. In the end, the company had become a major drain on the parent group's resources.

The final decision by Redcats UK to phase out the company over 12 months is, undoubtedly, the end of an era.

But there is optimism the remaining part of the business, the web-based shopping brands of La Redoute, Verbaudet and Daxon, which employ about 300 staff in the city, are part of the brave new shopping world and are expanding.

Redcats says it is firmly committed to investing in and developing these businesses and is positive about the long-term future for its remaining Bradford-based operations.

It is hoped that Bradford, which was the birthplace of one retail revolution, continues to play a key role in the future of direct shopping.

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