Job axe fear at Thornton’s Somercotes factory

THE future of one of the area’s biggest employers remains uncertain after Somercotes-based Thorntons announced the closure of at least 120 of its shops.

The chocolate maker said on Tuesday a strategic review had led to the decision to axe 120 to 180 stores.

A spokesman said the company is also conducting a separate procurement review at headquarters on Wimsey Way.

Thorntons had already announced plans on Monday to outsource the Somercotes warehouse and distribution operations to DHL.

A total of 134 staff are affected by this move, although warehousing may stay on the Somercotes site while controlled by DHL.

Chief executive Jonathan Hart said of the shop closures: “I am confident that this strategy is right.”

Thorntons also has 227 shops run by franchises and aims to replace the closed shops with franchisees where possible.

It says the stores which close will be among the 364 it runs directly and will shut over the next three years.

The announcement leaves local company-owned stores at the East Midlands Designer Outlet Village, and Mansfield’s Four Seasons Centre with uncertain futures.

Following the review the company is also looking to cut costs by £2m a year.

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The luxury chocolate maker, founded in 1911, has been hit by the recession and changing shopping habits.

Said Mr Hart: “Our goal is to re-focus the business across all channels and seek to deliver industry competitive returns over the next three to five years.

“Although we see the prospect of weakness in high street footfall and consumer sentiment continuing, I am confident that this strategy is right.

“We continue to adapt in order to meet the changing needs of our customers, while at the same time retaining our current presence on the high street through our own stores and our franchise business.”

The Somercotes headquarters is one of the area’s biggest employers with 1,550 staff across warehousing, distribution, factory and office sectors.

A Thorntons spokesman said on Tuesday: “The company is carrying out a review at head office and can’t rule out redundancies.

“Job losses are an option but the firm will always work to avoid them.”

Clarifying the position, another spokesman later added the review involved procurement and the firm’s position on being unable to rule out redundancies was not new and had not changed in light of the week’s announcements.

The company also wants to make its business less focused on seasonal sales around dates such as Easter and Christmas, instead developing new product ranges for any occasion.

Amber Valley Borough council’s Somercotes councillor John McCabe said he had concerns for the local economy.

“The Government is making cuts and not doing anything to stimulate the economy and this is the local effect of that,” he said.

“It’s just starting to happen; when people’s spending power is threatened chocolates are one of the things they are going to cut back on.”

Thorntons’ share price has dropped from 102.5p last October to 62.5p on Tuesday.

The company currently runs 364 stores directly and 227 under franchise.

Last July it announced 35 job cuts at the Wimsey Way base following a previous re-structuring programme.