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2020 or bust: brands we lost in the past decade

The 2010s have been a wild ride for companies, and some of them just couldn't take the strain amid geopolitical upheaval and huge structural change

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As the end of the decade approaches with seemingly every UK company citing “challenges”, “headwinds” or both, a look back at the 2010s recalls a period littered with pitfalls and hurdles over which various companies and brands failed to leap.

These started when the fallout from the global financial crisis was still rumbling and ended with four years of Brexit uncertainty, as well as huge structural changes in several markets along the way.

The turbulence has been enough to claim a number of established brands, who have collapsed under the weight of these circumstance or bad management decisions.

Thomas Cook

Perhaps one of the most high-profile failures of the decade, Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel agent, collapsed this year after failing to secure a £900mln rescue deal.

As well as the weight of a massive debt pile, the 178-year-old company’s failure was also attributed to it maintaining a network of high street travel agents despite the growth of online holiday bookings.

By the time it realised it needed to reinvent itself, the tour operator was instead hamstrung by debt repayments, higher costs and wafer-thin profit margins that ultimately proved too much to bear.

JJB Sports

An early titan of what has since become known as the ‘athleisure’ clothing market, JJB Sports was fatally weakened by the financial crisis and eventually collapsed into administration in 2012 following a failed restructuring.

While rival Sports Direct International PLC (LON:SPD), headed by retail tycoon Mike Ashely, bought the JJB brand and around 20 stores following its bankruptcy, the collapse resulted in around 2,200 redundancies as well as burning a hole in the pocket of several major investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which had invested into the firm in 2009.

The drama for JJB didn’t end with its liquidation, as former boss Christopher Ronnie was jailed for four years in 2014 after being found guilty of fraudulent payments totalling £1mln while he served as chief executive of the firm between 2007 and 2008.

Blockbuster

Once a ubiquitous name on high streets across the world, US film rental chain Blockbuster employed around 84,300 people at its peak across just over 9,000 stores.

However, the blue and yellow giant began to haemorrhage revenues in the new millennium as the rise of mail-order rental services, including UK-based Lovefilm that was bought by then-nascent Netflix Inc (NASDAQ:NFLX), began to drain away customers.

This was part of a trend towards the new convenience offered by online services, compounded as the quality of internet streaming improved dramatically, which the VHS-rental firm’s management chose to ignore until it was too late.

In an added twist of the knife for Blockbuster when it eventually collapsed in 2010, was that it had turned down a chance to buy Netflix for US$50mln 10 years before.

Toys R Us

Founded in 1948 and at its height operating around 800 stores, Toys R Us eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in 2017 to deal with a huge US$5bn debt pile.

While the company said initially that only its American operations would be affected, the bankruptcy saw stores shuttered across both the US and UK in 2018, although the firm is still operating internationally across other markets in Asia and Africa which were less affected by its financial troubles.

The group also seems to be working on something of a Lazarus act, with its lenders announcing in October last year that the group planned to relaunch itself sometime in the future.

Carillion

While not exactly a household name during its lifetime, the collapse of the UK outsourcing giant Carillion became very public news at the start of 2018 when a debt pile of almost £7bn forced it into liquidation, ultimately costing over 2,000 jobs.

The ensuing analysis of the bankruptcy raised numerous political questions around the award of UK government contracts to companies facing financial difficulty, with Carillion having secured £2bn in deals with the state despite having previously issued three profit warnings.

An inquiry by Parliament’s Business and Work and Pensions Select Committees also raised concerns over a perceived lack of competition in the UK’s audit market, which was dominated by the ‘big four’ accounting firms, PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte. This then led to the Parliamentary committee continuing to press for the four auditors to be broken up to stop the oligopoly.

Debt problems among the UK’s outsourcers were brought into focus again just over a year later when Carillion competitor Interserve also collapsed into administration after failing to restructure and refinance its business.

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