The fashion retail giant Next has kicked off the sale of its headquarters and three warehouses – days after mothballing its vast online operations amid pressure from its workforce.
Sky News has learnt that the company has appointed Savills, the property agent, to find a buyer for its head office in Leicester.
Next said that another agent, Acre, would oversee the warehouse disposals.
The sale-and-leasebacks are expected to generate tens of millions of pounds for Next, helping to fortify its balance sheet as it faces the prospect of short-term revenues falling to zero.
However, the processes come at a time of growing uncertainty for parts of the commercial property sector.
Lord Wolfson, the company’s chief executive, said alongside its full-year results last month that online sales were expected to fare better during the pandemic than those at its stores, although it has since closed both routes to market.
Next originally proposed to keep its distribution centres open, before announcing that it would temporarily shut them after feedback from staff.
The retailer added that it had modelled several “stress scenarios”, the most extreme of which was a £1bn fall in sales – equivalent to a quarter of its annual revenues.
Rival chains have been wrestling with the question of whether to follow Next’s example in closing its logistics operations for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Sky News revealed this week that the British Retail Consortium was proposing a blueprint to ensure that warehouse staff were adequately protected in line with the government’s social distancing guidelines.
Trade unions have accused retailers including ASOS, Matalan and Marks & Spencer of putting employees’ health at risk by forcing them to work too closely together.