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Struggling shopping centre owner Intu abandons £1bn cash call | Business

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Intu Properties, the owner of the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex, has been forced to pull an emergency cash call after admitting “extreme” market conditions had left it unable to raise its minimum target of £1.3bn from jittery investors.

The failure to secure the funding means Intu, which is struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, has missed the criteria set by its banks to grant a new four-year £440m revolving credit facility. The company said that this means there is a risk it could breach certain bank covenants when they are next tested in July.

The company has been involved in discussions with shareholders and potential new investors over the last few months to try to raise the target to shore up its balance sheet.

“Following these discussions, Intu has concluded it is unable to proceed with an equity raise at this point,” the company said on Wednesday.

“While a number of Intu’s shareholders and potential new investors indicated their support for an equity raise, the board believes the current uncertainty in the equity markets and retail property investment markets precluded a number of potential investors from committing capital into the business and Intu was therefore unable to reach the target quantum at the current time.”

On Wednesday, shares in Intu plunged 40% in early trading to 6.6p, a new all-time low.

Intu said that during the process the company had received “several expressions of interest to explore alternative capital structures and asset disposals”. The company is exploring these strategic options. Intu said that the estimated value of its portfolio of shopping centres dropped 22% from £8.78bn in 2018 to £6.6bn in 2019.

“While it is disappointing that the extreme market conditions have prevented us from moving forward with our planned equity raise, I am pleased that a number of alternative options have presented themselves during the process, which we will now explore further,” said Matthew Roberts, the chief executive of Intu. “We remain focused on fixing our balance sheet in the near term to ensure this business has the financial footing it needs to realise its significant potential.”

The company said it is currently in compliance with its debt covenants but that “there is a risk that, depending on the performance of Intu’s business and movements in valuations, it could be in breach of certain covenants at there scheduled testing date in July 2020”.

It estimated that a further 10% fall in the valuation of its shopping centre portfolio would mean it needed to find a further £113m under group asset-level borrowings and a £161m repayment on borrowings of its revolving credit facility.

In terms of net rental income, which fell 9.1% in 2019, a further 10% fall would mean Intu needs another £34m of group asset-level borrowings to remain within its covenants.

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The company said it is seeking to take “timely mitigating actions”, including seeking covenant waivers, to deal with any potential breaches in July.

The company, which reports its 2019 results on 12 March, said losses widened by 72% to £1.95bn last year while total revenues fell from £581m to £541m. Net rental income fell from £451m to £402m.

“We will face further challenges in what has been an extraordinary few months for Intu and the wider sector,” Roberts said. “This is a compelling proposition and one that will stand the test of time. Operationally, our business is strong, delivering a resilient rental performance despite ongoing pressure from CVAs and administrations, with stable occupancy rates and footfall that consistently outperforms the benchmark.”

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Two stores, two decades, one pandemic survived for downtown retailer

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Owning a business is not something that Vicki Tompkins grew up dreaming of, but in her now decades of entrepreneurship she said she “loves every aspect of it.” 

Tompkins has run the For Men Only (FMO) and For Women Only (FWO) downtown clothing boutiques since they opened in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

“It’s not perfect every day by any means, but for the most part, it’s great,” she said. 

Even through the quiet early pandemic days, the stores stayed open.

Vicki Tompkins has been running the For Women Only and For Men Only stores for two decades. In the early days of the pandemic, she admits she panicked over possible bankruptcy but has since “beefed up” web presence and been able to persevere. Natalie Pressman/NNSL Photo.

“Actually just coming into the store, even if nobody came in, was just really nice to be able to come in and sort of calm down and not be sitting at home freaking out,” Tompkins said. 

When the losses hit, Tompkins laid off almost all her staff – upwards of nine – though she has since been able to bring back a full time employee in each store. 

She said there was a lot of thinking “oh my god I’m going to bankrupt,” but then “I just started persevering and started to really try and calm down.”

Tompkins reduced store hours and worked to “beef up” her online presence through social media and the stores’ websites. FMO and FWO began offering delivery services and taking shopping appointments so patrons could come in one at a time to look around without fear of coming into contact with other residents’ household bubbles. 

She said the losses are significant but that she’s “still here.”

“I still eat well, I drink wine on Fridays,” she said. “It’s not great, but it’s fine.” 

Government assistance has also helped, she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m still open.”

By trade, Tompkins is an artist.

She didn’t have a background in business at the time, but when the possibility of opening a store came up in discussion with friends, it seemed like a way of bringing together the skills Tompkins had amassed through various jobs throughout her life. 

“Sometimes you just fall into jobs. It just sort of happens.”

She acknowledges there are challenges to running a store and frequently facing risk head on, but when Tompkins said she “loves doing this,” she’s quick to list the reasons why. 

“I like the buying, I like doing the books, I love the customers. I love finding people things.” 

“It’s very satisfying to sell somebody something when they come out and they love it and you love it, when you both just feel like ‘yes, this is the right thing for you right now.’” 

From working in a small town for so many years, Tompkins said she’s gotten to know the people who come into the store. That way, when she does the buying, she said she really knows who the product is for and say “that line will really work for that person.”

On the other hand, Tompkins said it can be a challenge to manage customers’ expectations. She decides personally each item that is sold in the store and as fashions change, so do the products. When customers come in looking for the same pair of pants they bought five years ago, or a specific boot, she has to remind them “I’m not Amazon.” She said it is just another way that customer service fascinates her.  

To other entrepreneurs, Tompkins said “you really have to find your passion.”

Vicki Tompkins’ background is in art but said she “loves every aspect” of running her business. Natalie Pressman/NNSL Photo.

“There’s a lot more to jobs, as everybody knows, than what meets the eye,” she said, so you have to have a love of the work to keep you motivated.  

Tompkins emphasized the importance of buying local, in Yellowknife and across the country. 

“I think it’s really opened people’s eyes to, ‘if you don’t support us, then we’re not going to be here.’” 

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FirstOnSite Restoration opens business in new locations

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FirstOnSite Restoration opens business in new locations

Driven by its recent business growth despite the challenges of the pandemic, emergency restoration and reconstruction service provider FirstOnSite Restoration has opened a new branch in New Brunswick, as well as relocating its Winnipeg branch to a much larger facility.

FirstOnSite Restoration’s new branch in New Brunswick is located in Fredericton; the firm says that by investing in a local facility it strengthens its commitment to customers and insurance partners.

The new branch will be led by acting branch manager Kevin Bourque, and will be holding a grand opening event on November 05.

“The launch of the Fredericton branch strengthens FirstOnSite’s commitment to New Brunswick and the surrounding region,” said FirstOnSite Restoration Atlantic regional vice-president Darren Bezanson. “The team is excited and ready to serve our insurance partners and customers by helping them to prepare for, mitigate and recover from any type of property loss.”

FirstOnSite Restoration has also relocated its Winnipeg branch, after the regional team grew from six to 25 employees. The new 14,000 square foot facility has a larger warehouse space, a carpentry shop, and a separate cleaning space for managing damaged property contents. The new branch opens November 09.

“The relocation is the result of immense growth we are seeing in Winnipeg and the surrounding region,” commented FirstOnSite Restoration Prairies regional vice-president Jamie Mackie. “The larger facility will allow the branch to operate more efficiently, reflecting our ongoing mission to provide unmatched customer service.”

The branch has also added to its leadership team with the appointment of Dan Plouffe as complex loss project manager.

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Talking small business resiliency at Chamber town hall

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CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce held their second of a series of virtual town halls as a part of small business month on Thursday, Oct. 29.

The focus of the second town hall was supporting small business through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chamber invited a number of local representatives from different levels of government and organizations to talk about ways that they had worked to support small businesses during the pandemic.

Representatives included Greg Pietersma, Executive Director of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce, Denis Lapierre of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Business Advisory Branch, Candy Pollard of the Cornwall Business Enterprise Centre (CBEC) and Martha Woods of the Eastern Ontario Training Board (EOTB).

Much like the businesses they support, these organizations explained that they too had to pivot as a result of the pandemic. For the Chamber, in some ways, their mission remained consistent, namely serving as an advocate for local business.

“The thing we are most proud of here at the Chamber is that we were open throughout,” said Pietersma. “That was something that was of big importance to our board was that we be here for businesses when they needed us.”

Lapierre explained that during the pandemic, his ministry shifted to coordinating with businesses to support frontline workers, primarily through the Ontario Together Portal, which, amongst other things, helped provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline workers and aggregated a list of businesses who produce PPE.

The panel talked about the resiliency they had seen from small businesses during the pandemic.

“Some of the main street businesses we have that have impressed me the most, like the Happy Popcorn Company, and Brunch on Pitt,” said Pollard. “They opened up and changed completely. They figured out how to get people to order ahead. It was ‘how do I get my products online. How do I get people to know I have these things.’”

Pollard had explained how during the pandemic, they had offered seminars to small businesses to help show them how to manage cash flow during the pandemic, and continue advertising.

“Through it all, I saw people who wanted to open a new business or had already opened and wanted to continue that new business,” she said. “I’ve been totally amazed at how versatile and how people have adjusted almost on the spot.”

Lapierre said one of the most important ways that a business could pivot during the pandemic was through online accessibility. He pointed to the Digital Main Street project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping businesses create online stores, and promote online advertising.

On Oct. 30, the Chamber will be holding another virtual seminar on tourism with Archie’s Family Golf Centre being a keynote speaker.



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