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