Wilkos Closes: Whose to Blame?

It’s gone, a day early. More of a whimper than a bang as the management decided that their was not enough stock in the shop so shut up early. Wilkos, over and out.

Since it’s closure was first announced just before Christmas 2011, I’ve been trying to find out exactly why something so popular and so successful can disappear from Beeston, and I think that now, after more meetings and emails than I care to remember, I have a clear narrative on exactly what caused this. Front and centre, Wilkinsons. Your sheer avarice has damaged this town. Their are other culprits, as I will show, but Wilkos Head Office should be hanging their heads in shame. While pocketing a huge wodge of what is our money.

When we first launched the petition to keep Wilkos in Beeston, I was asked live on air by Hannah Meredith from BBC Radio Nottingham why I was campaigning for a chain store. I explained that it did look odd, but I was not supporting Wilkinsons the business, but Wilkinsons the store in Beeston. Just as you may think little of Royal Mail but still find your local Post Office invaluable, Wilkos was a resource in this town. Employing 56 people, mostly Beestonians, it provided a cheap and cheerful one-stop shop for all non-food needs. It attracted people to Beeston in droves, enjoying the greatest footfall per square foot than any other retailer.

My initial belief while campaigning for relocation was that Henry Boot Developers were to blame. I assumed that there idea of what Beeston Square should look like was out of kilter to what was actually needed: Wilkos was seen as too ‘low-end’ for them. I now know this is flawed, and Wilkinson’s have been very much a priority in the plans. They have had first refusal on a huge new premise on the redeveloped Square for some time, a floorspace that would comfortably house five mid-size retailers. This would be central to the Square, so did Wilkos jump at the chance? Nope.

While issuing hollow press statements ‘We remain committed to Beeston, etc’ they played a game of brinksmanship, the repercussions are another closed shop, half the employees on the scrap heap, the other half relocated to other stores. Rumour has it that they first demanded £40 million compensation for closure, yet the actual figure agreed was significantly smaller than this. But to lever more money, they refused to sign up to a new shop, as this would have had an adverse effect on the package.

So while both the council, who unanimously supported the campaign to keep Wilkos in Beeston, and Henry Boot, who held out for ages while other retailers were expressing interest in the new space, bent over backwards to reflect the needs of Beestonians, Wilkos prevaricated. It’s subject to ‘commercial confidentiality’ (a phrase I grew increasingly used to/sick of whenever I tried to get an answer from various parties) but if Henry Boot’s patience runs out, then Wilkos may lose the chance soon to take the space. Those jobs will never return.

Henry Boot will thus be seen as the Bad Guys, along with the council for allowing the tram. Indeed, the knee-jerk reaction I noticed on the streets while petitioning, and in a great deal of commenters on this blog blame the tram. Wilkos are happy to use this as a smokescreen. Poor us! Forced out of Beeston because of the tram passing through our premises. However, they’ve known that WAY before December the train was a certainty. The failure to relocate is the fault of Wilkos management. I stand by that with certainty.

Yes, the Council’s attitude to the Square leaves lots to be desired: why they have stuck another developer to consult on the plans to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, consultants who know a good deal when they see it so retain this cash pipeline by shouting down all plans submitted by Henry Boot. This is not joined up thinking. The Council and Henry Boot need desperately to start working together and get the work done. Henry Boot need to provide Beestonians with a much clearer vision of what they intend for Beeston: and to be fair, recently they have been doing this.

Because when the situation becomes so antagonistic, it becomes open for exploitation, hences Wilkos strategic fleecing of funds.

I am also not as naïve as to think that Wilkinsons should be ran as a charity. They are a business as much as Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose (who will also be setting up shop in the Square soonish). Why should we expect anything different?

Because Wilkos has a reputation as a good, ethical employer; who also give a large donation to a selected charity each year. This reputation has always been strong in the community. Have they squandered this goodwill? Does corporate responsibility not fit their business model these days? Treating their staff as they have done: keeping them poorly informed, offering bare minimum redundancy packages (if any), demoting staff who did stay on, then freezing their wages for three years, seems to suggest they are happy to trash their image for the sake of a few quid.

Lets not forget that this reputation has been at least partly responsible for Wilkos recent massive rise in sales and profits. While this has been reflected in the remuneration of the directors, the staff have been treated like crap.

So whats the future? For the staff, bleak. For the store coming back to Beeston? That depends on the patience of Henry Boot and the willingness of Wilkinson’s Head Office to think of something other than sheer profit.