Thorntons has announced plans to close up to 180 stores

Thorntons has announced plans to close up to 180 stores

UK chocolate maker and retailer Thorntons is set to close up to 180 stores as part of chief executive Jonathan Hart's plans to revitalise the business.

Thorntons, which has seen sales from its own stores suffer in recent months, plans to shut a minimum of 120 outlets over the next three years. The company said it would also "explore opportunties" to close a further 60 stores.

Under a review of the business by Hart, who joined Thorntons earlier this year, the company plans to replace the "majority" of the closed stores with a franchisee and create a "profitable and sustainable" own-store network of around 180 outlets.

Thorntons said its own stores had been hit by "significant changes" in consumer behaviour and "limited" investment in its network. "Our own-store portfolio requires restructuring, both in terms of location and proposition," it said.

However, Thorntons insisted its own stores were "important to the future success of the company" and helped in "bringing the brand to life" and "supporting and driving sales across the whole of the business".

The company said that it could open stores in the UK's "top 100 retail locations", if, it added, "opportunities arise and if the potential is confirmed".

A key part of Thorntons' new retail strategy will be to make its remaining own stores less seasonal. Thorntons wants its stores to remain "strongly associated" with periods like Christmas and Easter but aims to serve consumer demand for products for "year-round" occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

Thorntons' franchise network is set to expand under plans for franchisees to replace the bulk of the closed stores. The company's commercial arm - which includes sales to the UK's multiples - will become its "main sales channel", it said.

Hart said the strategy was the right one for the company. "Thorntons is a strong, trusted and highly valuable brand with excellent potential," he said today (28 June). "Our goal is to refocus the business across all channels and seek to deliver industry competitive returns over the next three to five years. Although we see the prospect of weakness in High Street footfall and consumer sentiment continuing, I am confident that this strategy is right."