Midcounties ‘still in talks’ with Thomas Cook shop landlords

Midcounties Co-operative says it is still in dialogue with Thomas Cook shop landlords about opening new stores despite the deal with Hays Travel.

Chief retail officer Alistair Rowland said the agreement, which has seen Hays take on all 555 Cook stores on a short-term basis, would not stop Midcounties’ growth plans and was still pursuing 50 shops.

However, he said expansion would be “more targeted and slower”.

Hays Travel signed a deal with the Official Receiver last week to take on Cook’s entire retail estate until December 24, after which the business has six months to renegotiate leases with landlords.

Hays, which already operated 190 shops, has already opened 123 former Cook shops so far and recruited 1,761 staff.

More:Hays Travel opens more than 120 ex-Thomas Cook shops

Q&A: John and Irene Hays on Thomas Cook shops deal 

John Hays has not said how many stores would not open in towns and cities where there is an overlap, but stated: “Where we have under-performing shops, we will do what any business would do – and have a look at them.”

A total of 49 Thomas Cook shops are within 100m of Hays branches.

Rowland said: “We will watch what happens because what’s happened here is a licence to occupy, it’s not a long-term commitment to all ( or any ) of the sites.

“The other thing people are not talking about is that the landlords could still apply for forfeiture of the lease with the courts and opt to do a deal with a different retailer.

“The landlord still has a choice, they might want to lease the shop for something other than travel, for example.

“While I think what John is doing is good for Hays Travel and a great boost for the industry and ex Thomas Cook teams, how many he will have at the end of this exercise might be very different.

“We will still pursue the shops we can where the landlord wants to do a deal with us to take on a longer term lease with greater commitment.”

He said there was a complex “top down or bottom up” challenge between the landlords and the liquidators.

The liquidators had to get the landlords to agree to the short-term lease agreement with Hays. But now, if the landlords want to lease to another business within that time period, Rowland said they would have to go to court and seek a forfeiture.

“Many of them are thinking about it,” Rowland added.

“I am still in dialogue with the premises I am chasing and the landlords aren’t all laying down and accepting the Hays deal, although its clearly the easiest and quickest outcome.

“But I am sure many  will (accept the Hays deal long-term) because they won’t want to put the cash in to challenge it (in court).

“This won’t stop our growth in our targeted towns because (the areas we are looking it) were based on Thomas Cook shops being there. It just won’t be as attractive as taking a Cook shop which is already fitted out and has the people there ready to run it.

“So our growth will be more considered and slower.”

Barrhead Travel, Millington Travel, Polka Dot Travel and Miles Morgan Travel were also understood to be among retailers to have lodged bids with the landlords and liquidators of Thomas Cook for a number of its former stores.


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