Comet’s end shines more light on retail than private equity

Marion Dakers
THE looming end of Comet will leave another gaping hole on the high street, and for that reason alone should be lamented.

But this is entirely expected, given owner OpCapita was the only firm willing to be Comet’s lender of last resort when it was fighting for survival last year. The price tag of £2 didn’t denote a bargain-bin gem: it was a giant red warning sign for the risks involved. Even now, OpCapita only stands to recoup its £70m investment, on top of Kesa’s £50m dowry, if Deloitte can find a buyer for Comet’s assets.

Yet OpCapita has been much maligned for its apparent kiss of death on its retail purchases – MFI being exhibit A. The firm’s obscure methods allow conspiracy theories to ferment, but also hide successes.

OpCapita has, for example, been mute about the strong progress of Game since it bought the firm out of administration in April, but a source tells City A.M. that the once-hopeless firm is “trading very well and is ahead of plan”. Game chief exec Martyn Gibbs told gaming site MCV last month that he was “hugely impressed” with its new owner.

OpCapita used similar plans for Game and Comet: it cut back office staff, shook up call centres and streamlined supply chains. Comet’s collapse raises questions, but they point more towards years of the retailer’s fossilised strategy than OpCapita’s rescue attempt.