Yorkshire firm may join race for Blacks stores

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SPECULATION is mounting that Yorkshire-based Go Outdoors could be poised to make a bid for part of the troubled retailer Blacks Leisure’s business empire.

Blacks Leisure is in danger of falling into administration and being broken up if it fails to find a buyer this week, putting 2,000 jobs at risk, it was reported yesterday.

The stricken firm, which owns 98 Blacks outlets and 208 Millets stores, suffered a major blow to its survival hopes last week when its biggest shareholder Sports Direct walked away from buy-out talks.

Blacks, which put itself up for sale earlier in the month in a bid to stave off collapse amid dire trading, faces a desperate scramble to find a buyer by its deadline on Thursday.

If it is unsuccessful, the company could go into administration after Christmas and carry out a company voluntary arrangement, which would allow it to write off some of its £36m debt pile and let buyers close unwanted stores, sources told the Sunday Times.

The newspaper said Blacks’ rivals Mountain Warehouse, Cotswolds and Sheffield-based Go Outdoors are expected to bid for the best stores, leaving 100 outlets and 2,000 staff at risk.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reported that restructuring specialist Hilco, which in July sold the remnants of Habitat to Home Retail Group, is thought to be interested in buying the trading business out of administration.

The newspaper understands that accountancy firm KPMG, which was brought in to handle a sale, is talking to a number of potential buyers, some of whom are interested in buying the whole company, while others are interested in either the Blacks or Millets brands, or “a handful” of its shops.

Paul Caplan, the founder of Go Outdoors, told the Sunday Telegraph that he was in talks with KPMG to “try and understand more about Blacks”.

Earlier this year, private equity firm 3i completed a £28m deal to buy into Go Outdoors, which was founded 40 years ago. Today, the company has around 36 stores nationwide.

KPMG declined comment on speculation that Go Outdoors, which sells camping equipment, outdoor clothing and footwear, might be interested in Blacks. .

It put itself up for sale after failing to secure extra funding to turn around the business, which would have included a revamp of its stores.

The retailer, which owns the Peter Storm and Eurohike brands, made a £16m loss in the first half of the year and recently warned that its full-year performance would be worse than expected.

Its share price has tumbled more than 95 per cent since the start of the year.

Last night, a spokesman for 3i said they could not comment on market speculation.