Allders is a chain of department stores in the United Kingdom with its head office in Croydon. In 2005 it went into administration and was largely broken up and sold off. Its flagship Croydon store, however, will continue to trade as Allders.
Allders was opened in 1862 at 102 and 103 North End, central Croydon, as a 'linen draper and silk mercer' by Joshua Allder (1838-1904) from Walworth who had served his apprenticeship in Croydon. His shop was diverse, with special offers on silk dresses but also a mourning dress section, and departments offering lower-cost items such as buttons and ribbons. This diversity showed a shrewdness in business and an understanding of his mostly female customers.
Croydon was a growing town, and Allder's business grew with it. It was not long before the shop expanded into 104, 106 and 107 North End - he had to wait for some twenty years to take 105, a bakery. The wealth Allder made allowed him to play a prominent part in the local community, on the Local Board of Health, on Croydon Council for nine years and in the non-conformist church community. He supported greater rights for his workers, being instrumental in getting local stores closed for a half-day on Wednesdays. Joshua Allder died in 1904 leaving a store which had already expanded beyond clothing and haberdashery to sell glass and porcelain, for example.
Growth and Decline
In 1908, Allder's family sold the business to J.W. Holdron and F.C.Bearman. They developed the store into fifty departments with 500 staff and owned the business until 1921. It then passed to the Lawrence family, under whose control it became a limited company. In 1926, the famous North End facade was created, uniting the frontage of the premises for the first time. In 1932, the Arcade from North End to George Street was completed, which proved very popular with its varied concessions, a herald of shopping malls of the future. Allders was considered a pioneering retailer.
The building suffered considerable damage in World War II but never closed. The refurbishment saw improvements, including the takeover of a cinema auditorium as the gift department and Croydon's first escalators in 1954. By 1958, however, the Lawrence family were forced to sell the store to the United Drapery Stores Group as a result of death duties after the death of David Lawrence, managing director. His son was kept by UDS as MD. The company continued to expand, reaching a �1 million turnover in 1958 and �3 million by 1963. Fashion's importance declined, with household items taking a greater role.
In the 1960s, there was considerable change in Croydon, particularly the construction of the Whitgift Centre to the north side of Allders and the expansion of Allders along George Street. By 1976, Allders had 1,700 staff and 500,000 square feet (46,000 m²) of floor space. It was a Croydon landmark and the third largest department store in the UK after Harrods and Selfridges. However, although Croydon was now a major retail centre, transport and lifestyle changes led to greater competition with the West End and further improvements were required to modernise the store.
In 1983, UDS Group was bought by Hanson plc and was a flagship company of the group, with Lord Hanson appearing on Allders' roof in TV adverts. During this time, Allders expanded across the UK and also was seen in many airports internationally as duty-free concessions. In 1989 there was a management buyout with the international arm spun off as a separate company. Allders plc was floated on the stock market in 1993. There was continued upheaval in Croydon with the complete refurbishment of the Whitgift Centre and of parts of Allders flagship store.
Shares in Allders crashed in 1998 after disappointing sales and difficulties integrating the Maples furniture group which it had acquired. Nevertheless it continued a policy of expansion and acquisition, opening a store on Oxford Street in London's West End and having in total 45 outlets. Problems continued however. In Croydon, there were plans to build a new shopping centre, Park Place, on the store's current site and much of the area to the south. A new Allders would be built opposite Croydon's Town Hall. Croydon Council's partner in this plan was developer Minerva. In late 2002, Minerva was part of a new group called Scarlett Retail that bid for Allders, with Lehman Brothers investment bank and a management team including Terry Green, the former chief executive of Debenhams and BHS. There had also been rumours of a merger with House of Fraser or a combined bid from Allders shareholder Tom Hunter.
Some felt at the time that Scarlett's bid was based on Minerva's intention to acquire Allders' top site in Croydon for its Park Place project, in order to then sell the plot on to another retailer, probably John Lewis. The bid was felt by many to be overpriced. Nevertheless, Scarlett paid Tom Hunter an improved price and they landed the company in early 2003 for about �162m ($316m). Green became chief executive and set about an overhaul of Allders' image. Much of the traditional homeware, haberdashery and clothing for middle-aged, middle-income women was reduced, with a new emphasis on young fashion and beauty products.
In September 2004, Minerva announced that Allders had made a loss of �22.6m for the year to 30 June , blaming the speed of the transformation of the business. In December, it announced the business was up for sale. However, no interest was found in taking on the company as a whole and it was placed in administration on 26 January 2005. It was revealed that there was a pensions deficit of �15 million. 130 of the staff at the Croydon headquarters were laid off, including Green and other senior managers.
Kroll, the administrators, once again searched for buyers for the chain or individual stores. Of Allders' 45 stores, only 35 received offers, with rival retailers such as House of Fraser, Debenhams and Next said to have expressed an interest. The ten remaining stores, including the Oxford Street branch, began closing-down sales on 5 February.
In May 2005, it was announced that the owners of Jaeger would take on the flagship Croydon store and that it would continue to trade as Allders.
- Official website
- Memories of Croydon (1999), various authors, ISBN 1900463199
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