A look back at the industry headlines for 2009 reveals that the
year was not one of unmitigated gloom. Yes, Freemans Grattan
Holdings made more than a quarter of its workforce redundant;
yes, Royal Mail work stoppages made life even more challenging
for direct merchants as they entered the Christmas selling
season. But a number of flailing businesses were acquired and
relaunched. Even more promising, several major players invested
in the future by rolling out new brands or foreign initiatives.
All in all, 2009 looks less like a year of disappointment and
more like one of transition and preparation for better times to
- Freemans Grattan Holdings, formerly Otto UK, announced plans
to close one of its two contact centres, two warehouses, and its
London buying office. Ultimately it made 1,000 of its 3,800
- The management team of Virgin Vie at Home, led by founding
directors Ros Simmons and Ratan Daryani, acquired the cosmetics
and skincare marketer from Virgin Group. The new owners closed
Virgin Vie’s 15 bricks-and-mortar stores to focus on direct sales
and by midyear had rebranded the business as Vie at Home.
- Germany-based Bertelsmann sold UK mail order bookseller Book
Club Associates to another German company, private equity firm
and turnaround specialist Aurelius.
- Urchin, a cataloguer of children’s toys and baby products,
fell into liquidation.
- Baugur, the Icelandic investment firm whose UK holdings
included Hamleys, House of Fraser, Principles, Debenhams, and
Mosaic, called in administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers in the
UK. It also filed for moratorium-similar to falling into
administration-in Iceland. Four of Mosaic’s brands-Coast, Karen
Millen, Oasis, and Warehouse-were acquired the following month
out of a prepack administration by a team of executives and
Mosaic’s lender, Icelandic bank Kaupthing.
- Littlewoods parent company Shop Direct Group acquired the
Woolworths brand out of administration. It relaunched the
retailer as an online-only seller in June.
- Homewares and gifts cataloguer Cox & Cox acquired the
majority stake in toys cataloguer Cowboys and Cupcakes, formerly
Tridias. Cox & Cox relaunched the brand in autumn 2009 as Cox &
Cox Toy Box.
- Maternity wear cataloguer/retailer Blooming Marvellous was
acquired out of administration by a consortium led by MK One
cofounder Elaine McPherson, PanWorld Brands owner Mike Basso, and
direct marketing veteran Jim McDowell.
- Everything but the Music (EBTM), a marketer of music-inspired
fashion, fell into administration. It was acquired two months
later, however, by TKC Direct, the owner of skate and urban
apparel cataloguer/retailer Route One.
- The Hut Group bought home-entertainment retailer Zavvi and
relaunched it as an online-only merchant. It also expanded
Zavvi’s product line to include perfume, lingerie, and
- Rocom, which sells telecom equipment via a print catalogue
and the web, was acquired by rival distributor Nimans.
- Natural Collection and Ethical Superstore, two direct
merchants of eco-friendly goods, merged. Several months later
Ethical Superstore, which had been online only, launched a print
- JD Sports debuted GettheLabel.com, a catalogue and online
seller of discounted branded apparel.
- Housewares cataloguer/retailer Lakeland introduced Lakeland
Garden, a catalogue specialising in gardening and outdoor-cooking
- Maternity fashion brand Isabella Oliver launched 365
Collection, a catalogue and website selling nonmaternity
- Findel announced that it would shut toys cataloguer Letterbox
and home decor title The Cotswold Company. Letterbox was
subsequently bought by toys and novelties cataloguer/retailer
Hawkin’s Bazaar, which relaunched the brand in the autumn. Findel
also eliminated 60 positions as it incorporated the
administrative functions of its Findel Direct business into its
Express Gifts unit.
- Homecraft Rolyan, a mailer of rehabilitation supplies,
acquired physiotherapy and sports-medicine cataloguer Mobilis
Healthcare. The combined businesses were subsequently reorganised
under the name Patterson Medical, reflecting its ownership by US
medical supplier Patterson Cos.
- Silk-flowers cataloguer Bloom and Green was acquired out of
administration by multititle mailer Scotts & Co, which relaunched
the brand under its original moniker, Bloom.
- Having sold Letterbox and folded The Cotswold Company the
previous month, Findel put its Kitbag brand on the block as it
sought to raise cash and reduce its debt. The etailer of licensed
sporting gear was believed to be among Findel’s more profitable
- Lands’ End became the first cataloguer to sign up for Royal
Mail’s Sustainable Mail bulk mail service, which offers discounts
to organisations that meet environment standards.
- The Communication Workers Union (CWU) staged the first of
what would become a series of rolling 24-hour strikes against
Royal Mail throughout the summer. As was the case when the CWU
conducted work actions against Royal Mail two years earlier, the
carrier’s modernisation plans and possible job cuts were the
- After months of murmurs and seeking a government bailout,
German conglomerate Arcandor filed for insolvency. Its businesses
included the Quelle catalogue and the Primondo speciality
catalogue unit, whose UK titles included Afibel, Elegance, and
Peter Hahn. In October, having failed to find a buyer for its
German Quelle business, Arcandor shut the division, but it
continued to seek a buyer for Primondo.
- Freemans Grattan Holdings folded its Montage catalogue,
saying that its offering and market positioning were “too
similar” to those of its Freemans and Grattan
- The Book People and Scholastic ended their partnership in the
Red House children’s book club and the schools-based School Link
book club. The Book People retained Red House, while Scholastic
incorporated School Link into its UK book club business.
- Creditors of Discover Leisure, a direct seller of camping and
caravan gear, approved a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) that
enabled the business to remain a going concern.
- Ondrives, a cataloguer of manufacturing components, and
competitor Rino Industries merged. The combined business is now
operating under the Ondrives name.
- Gifts and collectibles cataloguer Compton & Woodhouse was
bought out of administration by Haroldrex Ventures, a new company
led by Compton chief executive Mark Dugdale.
- Shop Direct Group rebranded Littlewoods Direct as Very. The
relaunched website included a number of social-networking
features, and in addition to mailing a directory catalogue twice
a year, Very launched a monthly traffic-driving magalogue.
- Shop Direct launched LittlewoodsEurope.com, a website
catering to consumers in France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain.
- N Brown Group acquired assets of speciality-size menswear
retailer High and Mighty out of prepack administration. The
company relaunched the brand’s print catalogue in time for the
- Next unveiled a US website, NextDirect.com, and announced
plans for a German-language site.
- Disappointed with a lack of response from Royal Mail
following a summer of rolling work stoppages, the CWU ballotted
its members about conducting nationwide strikes against the
postal service. In early October the union announced that its
members had voted in favour of strikes, and the first three-day
staggered walkout began a week later.
- Speciality women’s fashion cataloguer/retailer Long Tall
Sally acquired the US website and 10 Canadian stores of retailer
- Brady Corp, the US-based parent company of workplace supplier
Seton, acquired Welco, whose three catalogues sell industrial and
office supplies for schools, health facilities, and general
workplaces. Welco’s former parent company, Welconstruct Group,
had fallen into administration the previous month.
- TP Toys, a cataloguer/retailer of outdoor toys, bought Muddy
Puddles, a cataloguer of children’s outerwear.
- Germany’s Otto Group acquired Quelle Russia from insolvent
Arcandor as well as the rights to the Quelle brand and related
brands for Germany and other Central and Eastern European
- The day before it was to begin the first of two
“all-out” work stoppages, the CWU agreed not to
conduct any more strikes against Royal Mail for the rest of the
- Christian charity IBS-STL UK put its flailing Wesley Owen
catalogue/retail division, along with wholesale business STL
Distribution and publisher Authentic Media, up for sale.
- Marks & Spencer announced that Morrisons chief executive Marc
Bolland would succeed Sir Stuart Rose as chief executive,
effective early 2010. Rose will remain chairman of M&S, however.