Discount retailers and supermarkets are eyeing Peacocks’ 563-store portfolio in case administrators fail to find a buyer for all or part of the distressed value fashion chain.

KPMG, which was appointed administrator a week ago, said it still hoped to find a buyer, setting a deadline of Monday January 30 for potential bidders. But shop landlords and their advisers say that, even if a buyer is found, about 200 stores could close.

KPMG said last night: “We are the only people who can close stores and at the moment there are no plans for store closures.”

However, landlords are readying themselves for possible closures, and have begun negotiating with retailers that might take on their stores.

Brighthouse, the hire-purchase company, Poundland, the discount retailer, and most of the large supermarket and convenience groups are running the rule over the chain’s high street stores, and some are interested in re-employing store staff.

Retailers are describing the unfolding situation as “another Woolworths” drawing parallels with the collapse of the high street chain three years ago.

Most Peacocks stores are located on provincial high streets, rather than shopping malls or out-of-town retail parks.

Since Woolworths’ collapse, about half of its store portfolio has been acquired by discount retailers and supermarket groups, according to research from the Local Data Company, which shows that 87 per cent of former Woolworths stores have been re-let.

“We took more ex-Woolworths stores than anyone else,” said Jim McCarthy, chief executive of Poundland, referring to the 70 stores the retailer acquired direct from landlords after Woolworths’ collapse.

“Naturally, you’re right to assume that we will be casting our eyes over the Peacocks estate.”

Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain by market share, is expected to be among those examining sites that might become available, either for potential locations for convenience stores or because they might be occupied by a competitor.

Asda and Morrison are building their portfolios of smaller stores. However, Andy Clarke, chief executive of Asda, has said in the past that the supermarket group would look to take stores of 5,000 sq ft or more that have car parking facilities. This would limit the number of Peacocks stores in which it might be interested.

All the supermarkets declined to comment.

People close to the situation and seasoned retail watchers said that they expected a buyer to be found for Peacocks, given the high level of interest in the auction process and the fact that it remained a significant business, despite its difficulties.

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