LONDON Britain's squeezed high street will receive a much-needed boost on Thursday when camera specialist Jessops is brought back to life by a well-known entrepreneur less than three months after its collapse.
Peter Jones, whose investments span the food, entertainment and media sectors, will reopen six Jessops stores this week, with up to 30 more opening next month.
The new operation is a far cry from its previous life - a business of 187 stores and more than 1,400 staff, which slammed shut in January after succumbing to declining markets and online competition that has forced fellow British retailers such as Comet and HMV onto the rocks.
In its new, debt-free guise the business will be more competitive on price in the low-margin digital camera market, Jones said, tackling online rivals such as Amazon while also pushing for a bigger share of the high-end camera market.
"We're not going to be coming back into the high street and going back to 200 stores again; those days are over," Jones said. "I don't believe we'll have over 50 stores unless we start to go into Europe, which I wouldn't rule out."
Jones, who becomes chief executive and chairman of Jessops, paid 5 million pounds in January to buy the brand, website and assets from administrators.
He expects to invest up to 5 million pounds more this year on advertising and stores. It is forecasting sales of over 80 million pounds in its first year.
As well as competing on price, Jones said he hopes Jessops' online business, improved customer service, a collect-at-store offering and in-store photo printing kiosks would win back customers.
All manufacturers are on board and in store, he added.
The return of Jessops comes after DVD and games rental company Blockbuster was sold by administrators to restructuring specialist Gordon Brothers Europe on Saturday and will be watched with interest by businesses struggling under the weight of large store portfolios at a time when sales are heading online.
Jones, well known in Britain as an investor in television show Dragons' Den, said that he intends to stay at the helm of Jessops for the foreseeable future, pending his performance.
"If I realise that I'm not any good at it, then I will bring in someone who is better," he said.
(Editing by David Goodman)