Travel sector uncertainty forces luggage brand Antler into administration

Antler is the latest high street stalwart to succumb to insolvency, citing the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

antler luggage

Professional services firm KPMG has been appointed to handle the administration of Antler after the luggage manufacturer collapsed earlier this week.

A total of 164 staff have been made redundant since its appointment, mainly across the company’s retail departments. The majority of Antler’s 199 staff members had been on furlough as part of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

In addition to its 18 stand-alone stores, Antler products had been sold in large department store chains, including John Lewis and Selfridges. It also licenced the sale of luggage in Australia and Asia through third party companies. The company’s stores closed their doors in March and are now no longer expected to re-open. KPMG will trade the business in administration through its online channels, including Amazon.

Will Wright, a partner at KPMG and joint administrator, said: “Like so many companies across the retail and travel sectors, Antler has been profoundly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although the business was trading well prior to the virus outbreak, restrictions imposed at the start of the lockdown period prompted the closure of Antler’s retail and wholesale outlets, while the impact on international travel has also significantly affected sales.

“With uncertainty over the lifting of travel restrictions placing further financial strain on the business, the directors concluded that they had no option but to appoint administrators.

“We will continue to trade the business via its online channels while we assess options for this iconic brand and would invite any interested parties to make contact with us at the earliest opportunity.”

Founded in 1914, London-headquartered Antler was originally the luggage division of Brooks England, maker of leather bike accessories, which still exists as a separate company. It joins the likes of high street names, Laura Ashley and Cath Kitson, which have also recently gone into liquidation after being forced to close their stores during lockdown.

This week’s announcement is just the latest development in a recent chequered past for the brand. It comes only three months after the business was bought by Michael Lewis, the fashion tycoon behind Phase Eight and Whistles.

Following the financial crisis in 2009, Antler faced a pension deficit of £8m when it was bought out by private equity outfit LDC. Despite subsequent investment and expansion, the company struggled and sold to private equity house Endless in 2017.

Endless is known for turning around failing businesses and has had notable success with West Cornwall Pasty Company. After extensive restructuring, Antler saw an improvement in underlying earnings of almost £4m under Endless’ stewardship. During this time, there was a significant enhancement of the companies e-commerce capability. Investment in developing new merchandise and digital marketing led to wide acclaim for their innovative product lines.

In February 2020, the business was sold to Lewis’ ATR Holdings and was declared insolvent in May.

Other luggage manufacturers are also feeling the pressure with hip newcomer Away experiencing a recent 90% fall in sales. The world leader in branded luggage, Samsonite, has not reported its latest sales figures, but it has notably had its status lowered to ‘junk’ by S&P Global Ratings.

Some brands are adapting to try to stay in the game. Samsara Luggage recently released ‘safety kits’ containing an N95 mask, hand sanitising gel, disinfectant pads and three pairs of disposable gloves. The kits are targeted towards essential workers who may still be commuting and cautious passengers once it’s safe to travel again.

Canadian travel and lifestyle brand, Monos, was also quick to branch out into products for a post-COVID market. It has developed the Clean pod – a hand-held rechargeable, chemical-free, sanitising device that uses ultraviolet UVC light to disinfect surfaces and personal items when on the road.

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