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The Big Picture: Why the rush to shut up shop?

Dixon’s collapse was not a surprise, certainly not to those dealers who had already been offered sites a few weeks earlier.

What was a surprise was the short period between receivership and deadline for bids – between one and three working days depending on who you ask.

That left no time for some interested parties to put together bids. If they had been given the usual few weeks, it’s likely that far fewer than 27 sites would have been closed.

BDO made clear it had no desire to run the business as a going concern even though it claims on its website to have “in-depth sector knowledge”. Applying some of that knowledge would have held the business together long enough to allow further bids to be tabled.

It was no secret that Dixon was struggling, despite stripping out a lot of cost with the closure of the Thorne white elephant and the sale of almost 20 sites over the past couple of years. But that’s scant consolation for the 800 employees who have been made redundant in the retail sector’s biggest ever failure, eclipsing the DC Cook and HMG Holdings crashes in 2001.

If industry watchers have been waiting for a sign of the pressures faced by retailers, then this is it. Dixon Motors was a massive name in Yorkshire and in the Nineties had the highest profile of any retail group thanks to regular TV advertising – and one of the best reputations. Its rapid decline is a real blow.

We’d been trying to visit Dixon Motors for more than a year and met with the same response from John Haines each time – words to the effect of “call me in a few months when the business has settled down”.

It never did settle down, although just how culpable the management team was is open to question. Royal Bank of Scotland is not exactly covered in glory for its role. It owned all the A shares in Dixon and had a sizeable, though minority, stake but appears to have grown tired of motor retail. RBS called in the receivers and wanted speedy action.

The retail industry is going through a sticky patch – note also Pendragon’s profit warning – that could see more casualties. Another interest rates rise to 6% later this year could be the final straw for many.

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