The London-listed discount retailer B&M European Value Retail is poised to swoop on scores of Wilko stores as hopes falter of a broader rescue deal involving the HMV owner.
Sky News has learnt that B&M could announce the acquisition of around 50 Wilko shops as soon as Tuesday morning, with the chain’s administrators said by industry sources to be on the brink of announcing the first closures from its estate.
Mr Putman is said to have encountered difficulties during talks with Wilko suppliers despite having provisionally secured financing from Gordon Brothers for a deal to acquire about 300 stores.
Insiders added that the HMV owner remained in a constructive dialogue with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the administrator, about a slimmed-down deal, although there was no certainty that an agreement would be reached.
The latest developments, nearly a month after Wilko collapsed, will revive fears for thousands of high street jobs.
PwC announced the first redundancies at the company last week, although those will be dwarfed if mass store closures ensue, as now looks likely.
Wilko – owned by its founding family for decades – employed about 12,500 people prior to calling in administrators.
“We will continue to do all that we can to support staff through this period of difficult upheaval, and to maximise their opportunities for a rapid return to work,” Jane Steer, joint administrator, said.
“Our priority is to ensure that all team members affected by redundancy are assisted in processing their claims with immediate effect.”
PwC had been seeking external investment for Wilko for months – a search which acquired greater urgency four weeks ago when the accountancy firm was formally appointed as administrator.
Poundland’s parent, Pepco, has also been eyeing the purchase of about 100 shops, although it was unclear whether this deal would go ahead.
The Range, another value retailer, has made an offer to buy Wilko’s brand and online operations.
Wilko was established by the Wilkinson family in 1930, and sells homewares and garden furniture at discounted prices.
Like many high street retailers, it has been hit by inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges.
In recent months, it had been seeking to finalise a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) – a mechanism that would have triggered steep rent cuts at hundreds of stores but avoided any closures.
Mr Putman could not be reached for comment on Tuesday morning, while PwC has been contacted for comment.