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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 12:05 GMT
C&A shuts up shop
Shoppers at the sales
Not much shopping time left now for C&A customers
By the BBC's consumer affairs reporter, Karen Bowerman.

The clothes retailer C&A is closing its flagship store in Marble Arch, leaving just four stores open before the chain shuts down for good.

It has often been seen as cheap and cheerful, a store which provides the basics for people not wanting to spend a fortune on labels or fashion.

But it seems C&A failed because it never moved with the times.

In fact, some observers claim that the company almost seemed to get a perverse delight in sticking with the Sixties fashion styles which once made them so popular with shoppers.

C&A's main UK store opened its doors in Marble Arch, London about 70 years ago.

Now there are just four branches left out of 109. The remaining stores are in Bradford, Hounslow, Southampton and Lewisham and will shut in a few months time.

Centralised buying

Retail analysts claim the main reason C&A failed was because it tried to centralise its buying team.

It was a decision made in 1996 - but one from which the company itself admits, it never recovered.

The idea was to have one buying team, based in Dusseldorf and Brussels - and to sell the same styles across Europe.

But while fashions proved popular abroad, they failed to catch on in the UK.

Seeing the new styles, shoppers also thought the store was trying to move upmarket. In their minds, this meant prices would rise - so many stayed away.

The chain exacerbated the problem by ceasing to use UK designers who mimicked catwalk fashions for the high street.

By the time the company realised its mistake, it had already lost ground to stores selling brands towards the higher end of the market such as Gap and Next - as well as cheaper out of town discount chains such as Matalan which seized sales at the bottom end of the market.

Smiling staff

But recently C&A has been bursting with shoppers.

Prices have been slashed and queues almost reach the door, but it is an enthusiasm that has come too late. Many shoppers are bargain hunters, rather than loyal customers.

But as the business, which began trading 160 years ago comes to a close, staff at C&A's flagship store are still smiling - despite being made redundant - and you can sense there is still a great feeling of loyalty to the company.

Some have even come out of retirement to help close a shop that, for 20 years, was part of their lives.

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See also:

15 Jun 00 | Business
C&A quits UK
15 Jun 00 | Business
Unions condemn C&A closures
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