Jobs will be cut as HJ Knee moves out of Trowbridge town centre

Wiltshire Times: Finance director Peter Knee, left, and business and property director Jonathan Knee Finance director Peter Knee, left, and business and property director Jonathan Knee

Jobs will be lost as department store HJ Knee puts an end to more than 130 years in Trowbridge town centre, and relocates its two stores to an out-of-town retail park.

The family-run firm announced on Thursday it had signed a lease to take over the former Comet store at the Spitfire Retail Park, and would be closing its iconic department store and specialist electrical retailer on Fore Street.

Business and property manager Jonathan Knee, the great, great grandson of the store founder, and his finance director uncle Peter confirmed fewer staff would be needed at the new, smaller store.

Jonathan Knee said: “We have entered a period of meeting with all of the staff, giving them a good understanding of the number that are required at the new business.

"It is less than the number we employ today, but the extent of that will depend how many existing staff will want to work for us.”

He confirmed the store would open on Sundays, which it doesn’t do now, in order to match the hours of the retail park's outlets. This would therefore add to staffing needs.

Peter Knee said car parking charges in the town centre had influenced the decision to move.

“It is a factor, but by no means the major factor,” he said.

“One of the main factors though is the prolonged recession we are in. We have been through them many times before, and we have always planned that we would batten down the hatches and weather the storm.

“But this time everyone has felt the town centre has left us; starting with Woolworths, then The Gateway opened on the other side of town, which was a body blow.

“Boots left, Argos left, New Look left; these are big names that drew people into the town, and that will affect the town centre.”

The move has provoked much discussion in the town, with many fearing for the long-term viability of the town centre, and the knock-on effect on other retailers.

Talking to the Wiltshire Times yesterday, Jonathan Knee said: “We are more than aware of the public reaction. We’ve had lots of really good chats with customers and friends today who have found out what we are doing.

“We have been working on improving our retail business for many, many years, and 99 per cent of those plans have been located here in Fore Street.

“The opportunity, and I would call it an opportunity, came to take over the old Comet building, and we did some due diligence where we went to the retail park in the morning, afternoon and evenings every day of the week.

“It just confirmed our thoughts that that retail park is incredible popular, it has some very good brands already situated there, and it’s very busy, with lots of people coming and going.

"A lot of our items are very bulky, and people do tend to buy larger things, like appliances and Dysons, which they need their cars for.

“An opportunity presented itself when Comet closed, and we have been looking at this for the last three to six months.”

The new store will focus on electrical and home goods, meaning many of the firm’s current product lines will be discontinued.

He said: “We will take some existing products and brands with us, and there might be some new ones, but it will not be all of our products.

“We will focus on items for your kitchen, your lounge, your bedroom, as well as electrical items.

“Our online business will continue, and will include all the items in store.”

The firm has signed a lease for the new site, but will continue to own all its current town centre properties.

Peter Knee said: “We still have a big interest in the town centre with these buildings, and we are looking at making sure they are used to the best of their potential. We have no plans to sell them.”

The store will begin a relocation sale on December 20, with the new site expected to be open by Easter 2014.

Many customers went into the store yesterday to voice their shock at the news.

Jonathan Knee said: “There’s a lot of sadness and commiserations, but a fair few saying they can’t wait to see the new shop, and they are so glad we are staying in Trowbridge.”

Peter Knee said: “We are a family that is deeply rooted to Trowbridge and west Wiltshire, and we still have a future here.

“I am the fourth generation of the family, and there is no let-up in my desire to keep the company going.

“People don’t like change too much, but what they understand is change is inevitable, and the fact that we are moving with the times is a very positive sign.

“My honest view is I am 55. In a family business you start at birth, and I have seen lots of changes.

“Change is a constant, so no, I have not got any real sentimental feelings about it, I am just looking forward to growing the business and progressing.”

Comments (9)

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11:14am Sat 14 Dec 13

Blanche Terraine says...

Many of the Knees' employees appear to be beyond normal retirement age. In fact, Knees' recruitment policy seems to favour the more mature applicant. It is of course possible that few young people, say under 40, wish to work in Knees and that the management would hire them in a trice if they applied. With an employee demographic like Knees, it should not be too difficult to reduce the workforce, although the people who are 'let go' may miss the company and cheerfulness on the shop floor.
Many of the Knees' employees appear to be beyond normal retirement age. In fact, Knees' recruitment policy seems to favour the more mature applicant. It is of course possible that few young people, say under 40, wish to work in Knees and that the management would hire them in a trice if they applied. With an employee demographic like Knees, it should not be too difficult to reduce the workforce, although the people who are 'let go' may miss the company and cheerfulness on the shop floor. Blanche Terraine

12:32pm Sat 14 Dec 13

Jenniethebouncer says...

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\outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 Have you ever thought that thE employees that are mature in years are still there because it is a good place to work. I have fond memories of knees going in there with my mum almost every Saturday and the staff were friendly and have a chat with me when I was bored of looking at whatever mum wanted that week, many of those staff are still there nearly 20 years on. If you didn't enjoy the job you wouldn't stay there that long, so no it's not necessarily that knees hires the more mature employees but the staf have been there are long time and have no desire to leave. I am gutted that knees are moving not so much that the location is changing but that they are going to have to cut some brands and staff. Knees are fantastic in the fact that they may not be the cheapest but you are guaranteed quality as all product lines are seen and known to the company to be of high quality and there is always a good choice but either way I won't be surrendering my knees card just yet no matter where they go or how many brands they are forced to cut I will still be a loyal customer and maybe one day when the economy picks up they will have the large items in the old comet site and reoccupy their current locations.
{\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1 252 {\fonttbl\f0\fnil\fc harset0 ArialMT;} {\colortbl;\red255\g reen255\blue255;\red 85\green85\blue85;\r ed255\green255\blue2 55;} \deftab720 \pard\pardeftab720\s l360\sa200\partighte nfactor0 \f0\fs24 \cf2 \cb3 \expnd0\expndtw0\ker ning0 \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 Have you ever thought that thE employees that are mature in years are still there because it is a good place to work. I have fond memories of knees going in there with my mum almost every Saturday and the staff were friendly and have a chat with me when I was bored of looking at whatever mum wanted that week, many of those staff are still there nearly 20 years on. If you didn't enjoy the job you wouldn't stay there that long, so no it's not necessarily that knees hires the more mature employees but the staf have been there are long time and have no desire to leave. I am gutted that knees are moving not so much that the location is changing but that they are going to have to cut some brands and staff. Knees are fantastic in the fact that they may not be the cheapest but you are guaranteed quality as all product lines are seen and known to the company to be of high quality and there is always a good choice but either way I won't be surrendering my knees card just yet no matter where they go or how many brands they are forced to cut I will still be a loyal customer and maybe one day when the economy picks up they will have the large items in the old comet site and reoccupy their current locations. Jenniethebouncer

12:06am Sun 15 Dec 13

Tinopeener says...

Very sorry to hear that Knees will be reducing the lines they currently stock. I hope that the linens and fabric departments, and kitchenware, cleaning products etc will still be available, as I rely on these - many are just not available anywhere else in Trowbridge.
Very sorry to hear that Knees will be reducing the lines they currently stock. I hope that the linens and fabric departments, and kitchenware, cleaning products etc will still be available, as I rely on these - many are just not available anywhere else in Trowbridge. Tinopeener

1:58am Sun 15 Dec 13

cartwrid says...

Sorry to read Knees are moving from town centre.

Just the sign of the times unfortunately.
Sorry to read Knees are moving from town centre. Just the sign of the times unfortunately. cartwrid

10:17am Sun 15 Dec 13

DavidP2012 says...

Why is it do you suppose that British companies so often use xmas as a time to announce job losses? Good to see that the business will carry on though despite encouraging more traffic.
Why is it do you suppose that British companies so often use xmas as a time to announce job losses? Good to see that the business will carry on though despite encouraging more traffic. DavidP2012

10:27am Sun 15 Dec 13

moocherx says...

A smart move by Knees to remain in business, modernise, and hopefully have another 150 years of success.
The types of people who thron en masse to the Spitfire Retail Park are not those you see in the town centre. There are a lot of them, and they spend spend spend in B&M, Home Bargains, Matalan, Currys, etc., so this opens Knees to a whole new, large market with money.
It is unfortunate for the odd OAP who like to buy a washing machine in Knees, but hopefully they will be happy to hop on a free bus to Bradley Road and continue buying there.
A smart move by Knees to remain in business, modernise, and hopefully have another 150 years of success. The types of people who thron en masse to the Spitfire Retail Park are not those you see in the town centre. There are a lot of them, and they spend spend spend in B&M, Home Bargains, Matalan, Currys, etc., so this opens Knees to a whole new, large market with money. It is unfortunate for the odd OAP who like to buy a washing machine in Knees, but hopefully they will be happy to hop on a free bus to Bradley Road and continue buying there. moocherx

4:21pm Sun 15 Dec 13

acurtain says...

It's such a shame that the soft furnishing, carpets, tools and china departments are not going to be continue, I feel sorry for the staff and the contactors that work for them,
It's such a shame that the soft furnishing, carpets, tools and china departments are not going to be continue, I feel sorry for the staff and the contactors that work for them, acurtain

9:13am Fri 3 Jan 14

bigbadben says...

One of knees small concerns is parking fees while moving to the old comet store may present free parking amongst their other reasons for moving, but have you actually tried getting parking in that retail park on a weekend it's a nightmare which will now become impossible
One of knees small concerns is parking fees while moving to the old comet store may present free parking amongst their other reasons for moving, but have you actually tried getting parking in that retail park on a weekend it's a nightmare which will now become impossible bigbadben

9:15am Fri 3 Jan 14

bigbadben says...

Knees state one small factor fir moving is town centre parking fees, amongst other reasons for move that is, town centre fees are reasonable com paired to other wiltshire towns, and have you ever tried getting parking at the retail park where comet was on a weekend, it's a nightmare soon to be impossible
Knees state one small factor fir moving is town centre parking fees, amongst other reasons for move that is, town centre fees are reasonable com paired to other wiltshire towns, and have you ever tried getting parking at the retail park where comet was on a weekend, it's a nightmare soon to be impossible bigbadben

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