Suitors lining up to greet troubled Clinton

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Card Factory chairman Dean Hoyle last night declined to comment on reports that the Wakefield-based company is considering bids for part or all of the stricken retailer Clinton Cards.

Clinton Cards, which employs more than 8,000 people, collapsed into administration on Wednesday after its biggest supplier American Greetings called in a £35m debt.

According to reports, WH Smith is interested in buying up to 350 stores out of the company’s total estate of 628 Clintons stores and 139 Birthdays shops.

Card Factory, Clinton’s biggest competitor with 596 stores, is also thought to have approached administrator Zolfo Cooper.

A takeover by either group would cement the buyer’s position as Britain’s market leader in greeting cards but will need to win the support of Ohio-based creditor American Greetings.

Mr Hoyle said “no comment” when approached by the Yorkshire Post.

A spokeswoman for WH Smith, which bought the online personalised greetings card brand Funky Pigeon in 2010, said: “We are not commenting at the moment.”

It is thought that Clintons’ founders, the Lewin family, are also interested in buying the chain.

Another option is the management “doing a phoenix” and buying a number of stores out of administration.

Zolfo Cooper said it has received a “significant” number of expressions of interest.

The next step will be for interested parties to study the books, identify the most profitable stores and see how these might fit into existing portfolios.

Administrators meanwhile will be looking to get the best possible return for the creditors.

Experts say Clinton Cards is a low-margin business with many stores tied into expensive leases.

The firm’s collapse follows woeful trading in recent months, which saw a pre-tax loss of £3.7m in the 26 weeks to January 29, compared with a profit of £11.7m in the previous year.

“The combination of weak sales, thin margins and high rents brought it down,” said one analyst.