Richard Macer visits high street independent department stores that are fighting back against the big brands. JT Morgan, the oldest department store in Wales, battles to survive.
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'This programme contains some strong language.'
-I'm always drawn to black.
-I don't know. I think it's a bit of a gypsy in me, a witch in me.
-It's not quite colour but at least it's not black.
-You don't like it.
It makes me look fat.
-No, it doesn't.
-Yes, it do!
Years ago most towns had their own independent department stores,
but now many are closing down.
These charming old emporiums
can no longer compete with big out-of-town retail parks.
I think that's sad.
For a nation obsessed with shopping, where has our choice gone?
So I set out to visit three of the stores
that are refusing to shut up shop.
I wanted to know if they could still survive
in the cut-throat world of modern retailing.
I've come to Swansea, to visit the oldest and most famous
department store in Wales, JT Morgan's.
It was founded in 1918 by Mr Morgan himself
and this year should be celebrating its 90th birthday.
JT Morgan's is a strange old establishment.
It doesn't have any windows
and is part warehouse and part department store.
It's a cavernous building with eight departments spread over four floors.
In the basement is menswear and electricals.
On the ground floor, it's jewellery, shoes and toys.
On the first floor,
ladieswear and lingerie, and on the top floor, it's homewares.
TANNOY: Welcome to JT Morgan, ladies and gentlemen.
Don't forget you can buy now and pay in January.
That's throughout the store. Thank you.
Today, the managing director of JT Morgan is John Coles.
His job is the day-to-day running of the shop.
He joined six years ago as a manager,
having worked in retail all his life.
What is it that excites you about the job most?
I just think it's making the store look good
and getting a customer comment like I had on the phone this morning,
that they love coming to JT's to shop, and everybody is so friendly
and the store's nice to shop and the product's good
and that just makes it.
I suppose it's like Lewis Hamilton winning a Grand Prix.
The same thing.
JT's had been losing business for many years
and four years ago faced closure.
But, rather than be laid off,
John Coles used every penny he had to buy the shop.
In doing so he saved over 80 jobs
and the staff now see him as a bit of a saviour.
John bought the shop with a colleague at JT's,
called Denise Road. She's the financial director and, like John,
she sank all her savings into the business to buy it.
Do you take the whole business to heart a lot?
Yes, very much so. You have to
because we live, eat and sleep in it and also, everything's on the line.
We're going to be a bag lady or a rich bitch. There's nothing there.
Our home and everything, everything else is just a job.
The worst that can happen is you'll get the sack.
If this goes down, we're bankrupt,
John and I will lose everything. Our homes and everything.
We're the wrong side of 50, too blasted late to start again now.
John and Denise have kept the family tradition in JT Morgan's going
by bringing their own other halves into the business too.
Denise's partner Nigel left a job in engineering to join JT's.
Now he's in charge of shop security.
-Trying to get him to sleep?
-He's not going to go.
He's too stubborn.
He also looks after their two adopted children
while Denise is at work.
-They're nice, aren't they?
-Are they your colour?
John persuaded his wife, Nadine, to come on board with the shop
and she's now in charge of ladies' fashions.
At the end of the day, what counts is my relationship with John.
If we lose everything, we lose everything, but we'll have
each other so if we're in a tent on a beach, well, fine,
but if we make it and have millions, even better!
When these four directors took over four years ago,
they managed to increase sales by 15%.
The shop's future was looking rosy.
But then, two years ago, disaster struck.
A new shopping centre was built
which moved customers further away from JT's.
Then massive roadworks just outside the old shop
meant nearly all passing trade disappeared.
Now, only the most loyal customer bothered to make
the trek to JT Morgan's.
So when I arrived at the shop in November,
it was facing the most crucial two months in its history.
Only a brilliant Christmas would mean the 80-strong workforce
and the four directors would keep their jobs.
Anything less would almost certainly mean
the loss of a national treasure.
MOBILE PHONE RINGS Oh, I'm not talking to you at all.
-Denise, our finance director.
-What do you want now?
-Sales, John. I've just gone over the figures.
I've got no chance of making these bloody payments.
You're saying you've got priority customers. I can't pay any of them.
We've got to do something and we can't survive on this.
But if I reduce prices...
You told me last week, slash prices, get rid of stock.
I'm not asking you to slash them,
that was knocking stuff down from £30 to a fiver.
If we carry on and we have the same shit weekend that we've had
in the week, I'm not going to have the money for the payroll
and then we're all buggered cos no-one's going to work without pay.
I'm trying not to spend money, I'm trying not to advertise.
We're just concentrating on our existing customers.
We're at the stage where it don't matter, you need to do something.
I really don't care. Thursday, Friday and Saturday to be decent.
-You want me to magic something up in hours to try and do it?
You should try doing my job sometimes, I'm really telling.
-I'm really telling. What?
-On the other end as well,
we're both doing an impossible job at the moment, aren't we?
You can't just magic up in retail, you've got to advertise...
-I'll try and do something. I'll come back to you.
You've gone into business as two couples, haven't you?
-Do you think that's a sensible thing?
No. There's nothing we've done in the last four years
that's been sensible. If we were,
we'd never have bought it in the first place.
It's not sensible to put everything you've owned on the line in your 50s
because you're not going to have the chance to pull it back again.
It wasn't sensible to do anything, really.
We should have just taken our redundancy and gone and got jobs elsewhere
and we could have cruised through and all the rest of it.
Why did you do that?
Because I've always regretted in life more the things I haven't done
than the things I have done and I didn't want it to be an "if only".
It struck me that Denise and John
had a huge task on their hands with this shop.
My overwhelming first impression was one of empty departments.
Often the only people in them were the staff.
John Coles would do the rounds in the afternoon to keep the morale up.
This was Geraint in menswear.
-He takes the photographs at the staff dos.
-I do, yes.
There are a few notorious ones.
There are a few which have had a few to drink as well.
Ones of people in compromising positions?
-Are they still here, the staff in question?
I'm afraid she's not here today.
-Is she happy to be photographed by you?
What sort of positions have you photographed her in?
No comment! No comment! No comment!
No, I didn't mean that to sound like that! What I meant was...
No comment, no, no, not that bad, no!
'Over half the workforce had been at JT's for more than 20 years,
'like the staff manager, Margaret.'
Yes, because I've started from the bottom like us all
and I ask people in a nice way.
I don't say do this and do that.
At the end of the day,
we're all here to work for a living and we're all here as a family.
I think it's like a family affair here.
At the end of my first day, as the staff clocked off, the overriding
impression I had was of a unique shop with a very loyal workforce
but in real danger of extinction.
WELSH MALE VOICE CHOIR SINGS
A week later, and the shop was preparing itself
for the festive period.
..Underneath the till...
I found John Coles in menswear
making preparations for what he hoped would be the Christmas rush.
You want to go out and meet your wife.
As that first week unfolded, I hung out on the shop floor.
I wanted to get to know some of the customers
who could determine JT's fate.
Beautiful place, the shop.
Very, very quiet,
everybody's helpful and I've got to say, it's been like that for years.
That's nice, isn't it? Are you going to buy that?
-Are you going to buy that?
-It's nice, isn't it?
-You're on television, Madge!
Are you looking for anything in particular?
-A wedding outfit.
-Oh, are you?
-Who's getting married?
-Eldest son, yeah.
What are you two shopping for?
-We're just browsing for bargains. It's what we normally do.
My daughter's getting married next year
so we've got lots of shopping to do at the beginning of next year.
-Are you, getting married?
-Yes, end of next summer.
-On a cruise.
-Have you found your dress?
-Yes, I have my dress. Yes.
-OK, I'll show you my jeans and top.
There you go.
-They look great.
-I think the jeans are a little bit big,
-I don't know.
-I don't know if they're too big.
They're big around the front, I think.
-They're a bit big, yeah.
The only problem with coming in now is parking.
It's a very wonderful store but now it's off the beaten track,
that's a problem for walking.
I had to walk quite a way to get here today from the High Street,
not many people want to do that.
This is where we're going to be moving to.
The roadworks had defeated all but the most loyal customers,
but Denise had a plan to resurrect JT's in the heart of the new,
and much busier, shopping district.
More than that, for the first time,
-JT's would have its own shop windows.
-This is JT's future.
This is where we're going to be, all down this side,
first two floors will be JT's new building.
This is going to be all-glass,
so it should, when it's finished, it should be quite impressive.
This will be where we will have passing trade
and people coming through.
We've just got to find the money to go on for the next 12 months
and then hopefully this will sort us all out from then on in.
In eight months' time, this construction site
would be a state-of-the-art shopping mall.
It's going to be one or two units...
Afterwards, back in the office, Denise and her partner and fellow director Nigel
showed me what the new JT's would look like.
In this business if you're not moving forward,
you're going backwards.
We can't continue trading in the place we're at now.
It's dying a death, this particular area of Swansea.
If we don't move there, we're going to have to move elsewhere,
but we can't continue where we are.
There's a great affection in Swansea for the store,
for the original JT Morgan and both his wives.
There's a lot of genuine affection.
He did a lot of good work and in some ways it would be nice to see
a little bit of the heritage carry on and if we can be the people
responsible for JT's having another 90 years of trading,
then I'll be very proud of it, personally. I really will.
Only if they survive this Christmas
would they make it to this new beginning.
-Are you. erm...
-My wife is trying...
How long have you been in here? All day, is it?
Yeah. Since this morning.
-A long day then.
What's your wife looking for, can I ask you?
-Do you like that?
-Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
If I was getting married - for the second time!
-If you were getting married for the second time?
if I was say, 50, and I didn't have my husband, my dear husband,
and I was getting married again, that's an ideal outfit.
-Just make it clear that you still love your husband?!
-I do, yes, yes!
By the middle of November,
sales were still running at about 20% below break-even.
If JT Morgan's was going to make it to its new home and take its
80-strong workforce with it,
something was going to have to improve fast.
So John, the MD, got together with his wife and fellow director Nadine
and his operations manager Mark
to brainstorm a sales-boosting promotion.
We need a head-banging session, to come up with a promotion
that we can run to try and get some more turnover. We need the three
of us put our heads together and come up with something that,
if feasible, will drag them in.
Why don't you go 15% off furniture?
Somebody's wanting a new table for Christmas.
That's the only thing we've had any success with over the last...
I don't think furniture is enough.
Is furniture going to bring them in on their own?
I don't think so. So let's try and start it for a couple of weeks
and give 15% off all clothing.
Clothing, it's bad out there, they're all doing it.
What we could... 15% off jewellery?
Why don't we go just 15% off everything between now and...?
They decided to take 15% off everything for 10 days.
This was a drastic measure just before the busiest time of year.
But John told his managers he had no alternative.
Sales is getting better, but it's still not enough.
I'm loath to give away margin, but I've got to do it.
We've been there before but we're still here. We'll do it again.
3,000 letters were posted out to the most loyal customers.
Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to JT Morgan.
Today we start our 15% off all JT's bought goods.
You now get 15% off. Thank you.
But the first day of the 15%-off promotion was quiet...
-It's the first day of sales today, isn't it?
-It's our first sales day.
-It's not busy.
-It's very quiet.
-It's very quiet, isn't it?
-Yes, it's very quiet today.
-Where are the others?
-It's the cold that's keeping customers away, isn't it?
-But not you.
-But not you.
I tell you what, I'm going to catch my bus in 10 minutes
and I thought rather than freeze to death at the bus-stop,
I'll make use of JT Morgan's facilities, have a look around.
So you've come in here just because you were waiting for a bus?
It's been really quiet.
The next nine days followed in similar fashion.
On day two, I waited with the staff in ladieswear
as they waited for customers to serve.
But with nothing to do,
we just ended up chatting about women's problems.
We're all roughly the same age, I think.
You must have quite a lot of camaraderie?
Oh, yes. We all get on.
That's why they employed us.
-We do get on in this department.
-We do get on in this department.
The thing is, this department, we're all menopausal!
So we all get it wrong!
We all get hot flushes,
we've all got memory loss, we all get our words wrong.
What is it about being menopausal? What sort of state of mind...
You haven't got a mind!
Do you think we're senile?!
No, it's just that you said you...
He thinks we're senile, working in this department!
It's all a comedy act!
On the 4th day, I did get to film one customer, who Margaret,
the staff manager, was dealing with.
But they were only returning a jumper.
-Can I ask you if it's been worn?
To me, this looks like it's been worn.
I know he's not worn it - it doesn't fit him.
He's large and it doesn't fit him.
Why was the label taken off?
-I've no idea.
-It wasn't sold with the label off.
Yeah, it's been sitting in the bag for the last three weeks
to wait for the statement to come through.
We checked it upstairs and it's been worn.
-I know it's not been.
-We can't do anything about this.
-Is that your bag?
-I put it in that to bring it.
-There we are.
Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to JT Morgan.
You now get 15% off.
This offer does exclude concessions, wines and spirits...
By the time we got to the 10th day, things were so quiet,
Geraint in menswear even began to see me as a potential customer.
-I think you're a casual sort of person.
A casual sort of person.
I think the only time you'd wear a tie would be... Maybe a wedding?
-A funeral? Possibly, yes?
-Am I right?
How about something funny and noisy?
-Funny and noisy? Would you like to follow me.
Something like this.
-You are an enemy of the Daleks...
You want me to wear that?
Do you think I could carry something like that off?
Yes, I think so. Definitely.
If you were interviewing anybody and didn't like them,
you could press that and exterminate somebody!
Surely you'd only buy that for someone you really didn't like?
'I could have bought the Dalek tie,
'but I really didn't think it would make a difference.
'At the beginning of December, the 15% off sale came to an end.
'And I wanted to know how the shop had done.'
But when I caught up with John and Nadine in her office,
it was clear from their mood it hadn't gone well.
We must have been bad in our last lives.
Yes, somebody clearly don't like me up there.
-Do the staff ask you about the situation?
-The situation with the shop?
-No, nobody has approached us.
Do you anticipate the staff will be...worried about the situation?
-I don't know.
-If staff care, then they probably are worried.
They probably do worry but...
I suppose there's ones that just don't care and...
just think that we'll pull it out of the bag again.
That's probably a good analogy, that.
Yes, we'll do it again for them(!) They just turn up.
John was right - out on the shop floor, the staff were optimistic
JT Morgan's would survive.
Do you think Mr Coles and Denise can pull it round?
Yes, I think so. Yes.
Yes, I hope they can.
I've got faith in them anyway.
'I could see that John was no quitter.
'But after the failure of the 15% off sale,
'John knew that time was running out.
'So with just three weeks to go before Christmas,
'he held a second event aimed at boosting sales.'
The whisky is in the middle to pick up more profit.
Gin, vodka and whatever.
It was an event he'd run many times in the past and it had never failed.
BELL RINGING It's Santa Claus!
The Christmas VIP night.
Loyal customers were invited
to two evenings of private shopping once the store had closed.
Would you like a glass of wine and a mince pie?
They were offered mince pies.
In past years, the Christmas VIP night
had taken over £50,000 in just a few hours.
Some years we do fashion shows,
sometimes we get caricature artists in and face painting for their kids.
We've had Barbie and Shrek and all these sorts of ideas.
It's grown from there that
you have to keep giving them something different.
To make a difference this year, JT Morgan's was offering customers
a variety of Welsh alcoholic beverages.
The range included a Welsh Chardonnay,
a Welsh toffee vodka...
..and a Welsh whisky called Penderyn.
'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to JT Morgan's VIP evening.'
Why not go upstairs to the top floor
and see our new range of wines and spirits from Welsh companies?
That's upstairs on the top floor and we're giving free tastings also.
Do you want to try one?
They're genuinely all local.
Try that. That'll refresh you.
Hmm, very refreshing.
They used to call me the vodka queen.
Try that, then.
Oh, that's nice.
The free tastings were proving popular
and elsewhere in the store business was brisk.
At one point the tills were taking over £80 a minute.
Brilliant. As long as Mr Coles smiles, he's all right.
When we're down, he doesn't speak.
We know he's in a good mood.
Everybody is happy now. As long as he's happy,
-we are, isn't that right, Becs?
But would that be enough?
I'd prefer it to be vodka.
Work on the new home of JT Morgan's
was gaining momentum in the centre of Swansea.
But despite the good sales figures for the second VIP night,
the shop's future there was far from guaranteed.
People were taking their life in their own hands to come down there.
So Denise had decided there was another way of raising the cash
needed to save the 89-year-old business. She'd sue the council.
That's the view from down the shops.
We have these lorries up and down outside all of our stores.
Two years ago, the roads outside JT Morgan's
were dug up by Swansea Council, killing off passing trade.
We were completely and utterly cut off. There was no...
no way that anybody could get through to us.
Road closed everywhere.
You can see in here, all these shops are occupied.
They're all closed now.
It just took so many people out and brought others to the stage
where they're certainly on life support at the moment.
I want them to put me back
in the position that we'd have been had we traded normally.
So it's a significant amount of money.
Denise and the owners of two other shops
met with a solicitor in Cardiff.
They instructed him to start proceedings for compensation
against the council in the hope
it would make an out-of-court payout before Christmas.
Your instructions are that this must now go ahead.
We've got no real choice. But what we don't want
is any wriggle room for them.
We don't want any room left for them to give us another delay.
This won't be a short exercise if this case is defended
and it'll take your time and your money, I'm afraid.
I know, but if you could give us an indication.
Well, that'd be one of the tasks...
It looked like it could be a lengthy process.
I joined Denise and Nigel in a cafe after the meeting.
They seemed defiant.
We're caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment.
We can't get out,
we just have to push it all the way.
We've no other option really.
I'm damned if I'll lose it to the bloody council. Yeah, I really am.
I'm damned if I'm going to allow somebody else
to take the business away from me.
-If we go down, we'll go down fighting.
It's not over until the fat lady sings and I'm not singing yet!
Back at JT Morgan's there were hopes a last-minute Christmas rush
could still secure the shop's future.
At Christmas, all retailers do two-thirds of their annual turnover.
But at JT Morgan's it seemed Christmas had been cancelled.
Do you really want me to tell you how much we've taken?
Surely the one place at this time of year
you could absolutely guarantee being busy was the toy department?
But it wasn't.
I don't like it when it's quiet.
-We'd rather be busy.
-How quiet is it?
Quite quiet this week, yes.
Is it as dead as a doornail?
Oh, my God, no!
I'm not telling you this.
It's really not good.
We've only done 695 and we're supposed to have done 1,695. Hmm...
MUSICAL TOY SINGS
It gets on your nerves after a while. He's stuck now.
-# Merry...merry...merry... me-me-me.... #
What else have we got to do?
Not a lot, is there?
I can do it around my neck.
Despite the deserted shop,
the staff still seemed unconcerned about their future.
I was getting worried
the shop might not be taking enough money to survive.
Go, go, go, go, go!
The VIP night had been a success,
but would that be enough to make up for this bad week?
I thought Denise's dream of moving to a new home for JT Morgan's
was a little uncertain.
A week before Christmas Eve, as John locked up
at the end of another bad day, he seemed a bit deflated.
I mean, I'm a bit flat at the moment so, at the end of the day,
you look at the store and this floor's probably as good
as any independent department store would want it to look, you know.
Instead of a 90-year celebration it could be a 90-year ruin,
which is not nice.
The next day Denise invited me to her office to go through
the sales figures for the last few days.
How are we doing today?
Crap, when I looked last time.
Not very well. 27% down on the day at the moment.
Her worst fears were confirmed.
The week's the one that's more depressing to me because we are now
20% down, which is disastrous.
Because of the time of year we do most of our trading in December -
in October, November, December -
so it's the equivalent of being 50% down in January.
Whilst I was filming, things suddenly took a dramatic turn.
With worse to come.
Denise had been considering asking the bank for an extension
to the shop's overdraft so they could continue trading into January.
But she got a message from the bank manager.
Looks like the bank's taken the choice off us.
They're going to send someone in to talk to us.
-Is that what the message just said?
So I'm going to have to talk to John and Nadine
but the bank have made it clear that they're not willing to see
the overdraft go up any higher than it already is.
Because the bank manager had frozen the overdraft, the shop was starved of cash
and there was still the Christmas wage bill to pay.
The next morning something happened that I'd never seen before.
Everybody in favour of Nigel taking the minutes.
All four directors got together in John's office.
They had to find a way of saving 84 jobs, including their own.
We've got to look at everything. Everything possible.
Do we close for the first three months of next year
and then we know our losses will only be £15 a month?
There's a million and one permutations we'll have to look at.
Don't open till 10 in the morning?
-Go on to a five-day week instead of a six-day week?
Everybody has Thursday off.
Halfway through the meeting it became clear
that a few people would have to be laid off.
Presumably it would mean some sort of staff cuts.
Er, yeah. And that is what the four-to-five day week would give us,
instead of the six day week.
Everybody would, er...
We would need less people to run it
because there would be one day a week less.
I don't think we can get out of staff cuts, as much as I hate it.
It's not good, is it? But at the end of the day we have to try to survive.
We have to try to survive, don't we, as well?
So we've got to get rid of people.
It's better to have 70 people in work
rather than 80 people out of work.
If you want to put it as a real cruel scenario.
what do they say in the wars? Better to sacrifice a hundred for the sake of a million.
The meeting ended with a decision to make 10 people redundant in January.
Then, on 21st December,
whilst most businesses were winding down for the Christmas break,
the four directors set off to Cardiff for an emergency meeting
with some venture capitalists.
They were going to put their cost-saving plan
of making a few redundancies before the financiers,
in the hope they might support the shop in the next few months.
The four directors didn't want me to film the meeting.
But when they came out,
John, Nadine, Denise and Nigel seemed happy and relieved.
Very, very positive meeting.
Still a lot of detail to sort out but in principle
we think we've got a good solution going forward.
Still got a lot of work to do on figures, sales and costs
but, in principle, it's quite satisfying at this stage anyway.
They seemed pleased that we were talking to them at this stage
rather than in six months' time
when certain options wouldn't be available to us.
So, all in all, much happier today than we were yesterday.
TOY SANTA: Merry Christmas! Whoo!
A deal to save the shop had been struck.
For the first time since I'd arrived at JT's
there was something to feel good about.
The staff had no idea about the emergency meeting
but spirits were high on the shop floor in the run up to Christmas.
My back end's better than my front.
-# Start spreading the news... #
# ..I'm leaving today. #
Oh, you're not filming me, are you? Oh, bloody heck!
The shop closed on Christmas Eve with everyone happy
and excited about a few days off.
After the Christmas holiday, I returned to Swansea expecting to find JT's open for business
but I was in for a surprise.
The shop was closed.
Instead an emergency stock-take had been ordered by John.
When was it decided?
I only found out this morning - when I came in this morning.
I was in the dark as much as you. None of us knew
until we came in this morning. I thought we were just opened.
Because we're normally preparing for the week leading up to stocktaking.
It was decided late last night and John texted the senior managers
just to pre-warn them that they'd be closed today and doing stocktaking.
Every item for sale was logged to establish how much
the shop's total stock was worth.
She normally tells us about a fortnight before
and we get ready for things, we make sure everything's got tickets on
and go through our stockrooms
but this has, well, it has been thrown at us, really.
-Hasn't it, Jo?
-We were very surprised
when we came in...
that the shop was shut because normally...
we'd be quite busy, really, after New Year.
For the first time since I'd been at JT Morgan's,
the staff seemed nervous about their future.
As I said, we've always been prepared before.
So you're bound to think, "What's happening?"
We are concerned, aren't we, really, because nobody knows what's going
to happen next or if they're going to start cutting hours or...
I was confused. Hadn't a deal been done in Cardiff to save the shop?
Something didn't seem right.
I would have asked Denise or John exactly what was going on
but they were nowhere to be found.
Even the operations manager, Mark, had no idea what was going on.
Are you worried about the shop?
Yeah. But I couldn't honestly tell you any more than that
because the directors have kept it to themselves at the moment.
-I couldn't tell you how bad a state we're in.
-I don't know.
But I can tell you from gut feeling that we're in a pickle,
a rather large pickle, but actually how bad it is...
..I wouldn't know.
I've been told next to nothing... in the last week.
They've been constantly in meetings with banks and...God knows what.
We had to do to a stock-take at a 24-hour notice,
which we've never done before.
-And they are in a meeting right now?
-Yep. Couldn't tell you who with.
Don't know where.
Are you worried about your job?
Yeah. Because my wife works here as well.
if it went, it wouldn't be good for my household.
The next day, the shop was open to customers again
but there was still a strange atmosphere.
Even the customers sensed it.
Excuse me, hello.
I just wanted to ask you.
Have you shopped at JT Morgan's for long?
-Yes, many years.
Do you like it?
Yes, very much, but I don't know what's happening at the moment.
-No, because it has an uncertain future, doesn't it?
But I've shopped here quite a lot.
It's been a very good store.
Has it, yes? Hmm.
It has over the years but it's been deteriorating
over the last couple of years.
Has it? Yeah? But you still shop here?
-But it doesn't have the stock that they used to, by any means.
I needed to speak to one of the directors,
but I could never catch Denise in.
I did find John in a meeting with Mark,
but he wasn't happy to talk to me.
-Is this a meeting that we can film?
It's only me and him just talking, that's all.
Is it of interest?
No, unless you want to talk about Everton and Norwich. Seriously.
All right, OK. Cheers.
I didn't believe they were just talking about football.
Then, towards the end of the second week in January,
I finally caught up with Denise upstairs by the cash office.
-How are you?
Knackered. Brain-dead. Physically dead.
And I've got shitloads to do still.
So, no further forward than I was on Monday.
But we're getting there.
-Can I just ask you what the current situation is?
-Not here, no.
Can I just ask you what the latest is?
Give us two secs, will you?
The company's going to have to go into administration.
It can't continue trading as it is.
There's no way we can do it.
What I'm trying to do at the moment is sort out the where, when and how.
Will there have to be job losses?
Yes. The bloody company's ceasing trading.
Everybody's going to lose their job.
-I really do need some space now, Richard, please.
My fears were confirmed.
The deal that was struck in Cardiff must have gone wrong.
Going into administration was a worst-case scenario for JT Morgan's.
It meant that the company was no longer owned by Denise, Nigel,
John and Nadine.
First thing in the morning,
a group of administrators were going to come into the shop
and seize control of it.
Everything in the store, from the fittings and the stock
to the loyal workforce would now be in the hands of the administrators.
It was a strange feeling watching the staff going home that night.
I felt awkward, knowing what they didn't.
A lot of the stuff I was working on...
Denise told John and Nadine what to expect the next day.
When he arrives here, he'll be running the company.
And then we'll find out if we've got jobs tomorrow.
He doesn't have to keep any of us on.
So we will find out the same time as the staff does
who they want to keep and who they don't. It's completely up to them.
If they don't want to keep us, we get redundancy,
and if they do want to keep us, then we don't.
They need to keep us. It all revolves around the four of us.
Well, you say that, but at the end of the day, they will do whatever...
Yeah, I know, but...
the way this business is run,
nobody will move unless they've cleared it with us,
so how the hell they think this lot's going to sort it...
Not being disrespectful...
They can do whatever they want, John. They can do what they want.
They will run the company.
-What's your feelings for the staff tomorrow?
That's the worst single thing.
With virtually no exceptions,
I think, they've all worked really, really hard for us
in what has been a horrendous four years.
The only thing we haven't had thrown at us
is a plague of bleedin' locusts, isn't it?
Yeah, they'll be in tomorrow.
And then Denise had some advice for me.
Seriously, whether you stay here or not tomorrow,
will not be our decision.
If they arrive,
they're perfectly within their rights to say,
-"We want you to leave."
Irrespective of any agreement we've had with you.
That will be gone.
So, er, I would suggest to yourself,
because they're going to be very busy, a low profile.
Swansea Council had not offered any compensation for the roadworks,
but now, even if it did, it would be too late.
John felt angry his shop had been killed off
by forces outside his control.
I feel like putting my fist through that wall,
and going out there and digging the road up outside the council offices,
because I feel that, deep down,
it's probably torn me in two, because I love JT's.
I love what we've done,
and this was supposed to give me and Nadine the icing on the cake,
and it hasn't. It's gone in role reverse.
So I feel like shit. I feel like kicking something.
It'd be better than kicking somebody's head in.
Probably the biggest major mistake
was buying the bloody thing in the first place.
But we don't regret doing it, because we thought we could save it,
and we THOUGHT, with an open playing field, we would have succeeded.
But you can't succeed when no customers can get to your store
because there's bollards in the way and bloody dust everywhere
because they're digging up the bloody road
and there's a Portaloo outside the fucking door.
You're winding me up now.
If you don't take a chance, then what's the point of life, you know?
-If you've got an opportunity, take it. What's the point?
I'd do it again tomorrow.
What will be, will be.
She's right, actually. Nadine's policy of life is great.
You live for today, and what happens tomorrow happens.
The worst thing tomorrow is telling the staff out there.
I'll start crying in a minute, cos that is hard.
-How do you think you'll deal with that?
-Not very well.
I suppose you must have thought about what their reactions
-are going to be like.
-Yes. Some of them have been here 30, 40 years.
It's been their life.
So they're bound to get upset.
I'm getting upset now, so stop filming me like this.
They haven't got a clue. They've gone home tonight,
-and they haven't got a clue.
-See you tomorrow. Bye!
The next morning, I followed Denise's advice,
and kept a low profile.
From the CCTV room, I could see people arriving.
..who were told not to go to their usual departments,
but instead, were assembled in the staffroom.
Then, after half an hour, the administrators arrived.
I went to where the staff were waiting.
-The meeting's on the shop floor, is it?
Do you know what it's about?
No, not really.
We're all expecting the worst, because it's been so quiet.
It's hard to try and think positive at this stage.
Could everybody go to the restaurant?
Once all the staff were assembled in the restaurant,
John Coles arrived with a list he'd been given by the administrator.
He started to pick people out, and send them to another department.
-What's happening now?
-We've been asked to go to Lingerie.
Then John and Nadine and two administrators
went into the restaurant, where most of the staff were waiting.
I wasn't allowed in the meeting.
The administrator told those staff
they had all been made redundant with immediate effect.
Then John was allowed to speak to them, one final time.
It's a sad day. I'm very sorry.
You're a family to us.
I didn't think I'd do this now, but I am.
We personally want to thank you for everything you've done.
We did our best to try and keep it going.
It's time to leave.
Hopefully, one day we'll work again together.
Genuinely, from all of us, thank you.
60 people were made redundant.
The remaining 20 were kept on by the administrators to run the shop
while it was put up for sale.
Really devastated. It's not me that's going to suffer.
-It's my grandchildren, cos I spoil 'em.
I thought it might happen, so I was a bit prepared, I think.
-I'm so sorry.
We've got to look at it as a new beginning. Do something else.
-Are you without a job?
-Yep, second time now.
Well, the writing was on the wall, really, wasn't it?
I've been here nearly 25 years. It would have been 25 years in April,
and I'm absolutely devastated.
I'm so sorry.
We were just all good friends as well, like family.
-Got on so well.
-That's one of the hardest things, isn't it?
-One big family.
-Are you all right, love?
I'm so upset, I can't talk.
I made some great friends here, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Not a very nice day at all.
The four directors also lost their jobs.
Technically, the four of us are up the creek without a paddle.
It's bad. I feel empty at the moment.
You got a spontaneous applause.
Yes, because I think they know we're genuine people.
We wouldn't have done this.
If there was some way that we could have pulled a rabbit out of the hat,
and we've all worked damn hard to try and do it,
we wouldn't have done this. Yeah, the staff clapped me, but...
It don't mean fuck all, because I've made them all redundant.
It's fucking shit. It really is.
We feel we've let them down.
..everything has been tried...
A lot of these people have families, you know?
What can you do?
We've got kids, as well, but...
-No matter what you do, you still feel guilty.
It feels like a death.
It really does feel like a death.
Margaret had been here years as well, hadn't you?
-Yes, she'll have been here for 25.
-Is it much worse than you'd imagined, Margaret?
Definitely. It's worse than what I imagined.
-I'll go and tell Jean we're going on, all right?
Sorry, Bev. I really am.
For several weeks, JT Morgan's was run by the administrators
and a skeleton staff while a buyer was sought.
Gradually, departments were shut down as the stock was sold off.
After two months, I found the place almost unrecognisable.
Vast areas lay empty.
How sad it was, I thought,
that this lovely old shop should meet its end in this way.
It was looking as if it would never sell.
But then, after three months,
a consortium of four people put in a successful bid.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to your JT Morgan.
On offer today in our fashions department,
we're giving 50% off in your JT's, and it's nice to be back.
I was shocked.
John, Denise, Nadine and Nigel had bought JT Morgan's back.
-Hello there. Did you know JT Morgan's would be open?
-We bought it back last week.
So we're having a big sale now with 50% off.
-How long is it lasting?
-A couple of weeks,
and then we'll reopen the store again with the new departments.
-I'll be around.
We've taken JT's back and it's gonna go onwards and upwards,
and soon we'll be moving over to the new store.
It's nice to see you back in the store.
I'm very pleased about that, because I like JT's.
We're back. What don't kill you makes you stronger, hopefully.
They'd only just managed to secure a refinancing deal
to get the company back.
They exchanged on the Wednesday.
-We were told on Monday that the backers had pulled out.
Tuesday afternoon, they were talking to us again,
and it wasn't until the following Wednesday
before we actually finalised it.
So there wasn't a point when we... It's not over till it's over, is it?
The 60 staff who were made redundant weren't being re-employed.
But those who were working at JT's now had customers to serve.
One of Nadine's comments on the first day back
was that the staff were smiling
because there were customers coming back in,
cos they'd heard we'd got the store back.
It was good. All the staff were smiling because it was busy.
And we were busy. Even I was on the till last Friday.
I'd not seen John and the others looking so happy and relaxed before.
I admired their determination.
After all they'd been through, I thought they deserved to succeed.
What odds do you give yourselves for success in this new venture?
Less than 50-50.
Less than 50-50?
Retail's shite at the moment.
It's the most crazy thing in the entire world
to start a retail business at the moment.
What will you do if it all goes belly up again?
It's down to them bastards now.
I'm off to the Maldives.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Series in which filmmaker Richard Macer visits the high street independent department stores that are fighting back against the big brands.
The oldest department store in Wales is battling to survive or nearly 80 people will lose their jobs. Macer spent six months at JT Morgan's in Swansea as the shop fought to stay open. They just needed a good Christmas to secure the shop's future, but would they get it?