This was a most distressing story both to hear and to report. The background: Stuart Ferguson and Adam Salt own The Cloakroom Group, comprising four stores in Fife. Their newest store, at Dalgety Bay, is an interesting proposition with a bar and café. When they opened it their supplier, Booker, was keen for them to take on the Premier fascia and they agreed. But Stuart says their support had been dreadful - no fascia, no merchandising… just a load of debt-chasing and harassment.
The debt has a very unfortunate back story. Stuart writes: “Sadly, my business partner was diagnosed with a terminal cancer caused by asbestos and at 37 years he is youngest person in the UK at the moment with it. There is no cure; there are only medical trials which are not funded by NHS Scotland.”
They found an operation to prolong the inevitable that they privately funded. “Which meant we missed two payments to Booker at the end of last year.”
The pair were forced into a payment plan not right for them, which meant full payments were missed. Then came threats of legal action daily by email, post and phone.
They had tried to put forward a plan that they knew they could stick to, but no one was listening. They were blocked from using their branch so they found themselves buying basic stuff from Asda or Tesco and travelling an extra 30-mile round trip to get stock.
By the time the story landed on my desk, Adam had just written a five-page letter to all Booker’s directors listed on Companies House in the hope that someone would see they were trying to pay back the debt they have never once denied.
I contacted Booker’s press office and got the following response: “We were sorry to hear of Adam and Stuart’s circumstances. We have now picked up with them directly and resolved the issues and we’re looking forward to serving them in the future.”
I asked Adam and Stuart if things had improved and Stuart replied that their letter had triggered a few things. A regional controller and branch manager turned up and a plan of action was put in place. “They have worked with us to pay the debt back over a more realistic time with what we are able to afford. We have agreed to still brand our new store Premier and have had the signage company out to measure and the merchandiser team have been.”
And Booker has told them that they have learned from this case and have done a review of all customers with debt and will work with the customer to resolve issues instead of threatening.
Stuart genuinely believes head office was saddened by their letter. “And I do think things will change.”