Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Livingston Watt Brothers staff promised 'everything was fine'

Suzy McMillan and Lesley McKinnell
Image caption Suzy McMillan, left, and Lesley McKinnell, right, worked for Watt Brothers in Livingston for over 15 years

Devastated Watt Brothers staff have told how they were encouraged to reassure customers for weeks despite depleting stock.

Suzy McMillan and Lesley McKinnell told BBC Scotland they questioned management about their shop's bare stock room, but were promised "everything was fine".

The pair have worked at the company's Livingston branch since it opened in 2004 and say it was "like a family".

At age 46 and 54, the two women now fear they will struggle to find work.

More than 200 staff have lost their jobs after the Scottish department store chain went into administration.

Shutters were pulled down on the firm's 11 stores and 229 of its 306 employees made redundant with immediate effect.

Lesley started her shift on Friday at 09:00 - she was in the shop on Almondvale Ave for two hours before administrators arrived and told staff to clear out customers and shut the doors.

Image caption A sign placed in the window of Watt Brothers Livingston after the shutters came down

She said: "The people in charge had us cashing up and we got taken upstairs.

"I thought I'd better start phoning people to let them know. I've no idea when we'll get our next payment but we've been told to go online - we're all older people so it's not that simple and we'll have to get help.

"I'm very upset. It's a family company and they've let us down big time - they've known this was going to happen but kept telling us everything was ok."

Image copyright Watt Brothers
Image caption Watt Brothers opened its first store more than 100 years ago in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Lesley, who worked on the shop's cash desk, said she feels guilty having told customers the shop was not in trouble for weeks.

She added: "We've been told to be positive. We have a partially blind woman who brings us in cakes every Thursday.

"She has no family and she comes in for wine gums every week. I went out and bought her sweeties yesterday because we didn't have them in stock."

Suzy was on holiday from work when Lesley phoned her to deliver the news.

Image caption The two friends fear they will struggle to find work elsewhere

She said she has noticed stock depleting for months, with some products run down to just one remaining item and others disappearing completely.

She said: "I thought in the worst case they would shut a couple of stores. I wondered what do we do, keep going? So that's what we did.

"It was half empty and we were reassuring customers right up until last week - the area manager came in and said there was nothing to worry about.

"We got a wee booklet handed to us and we have a number to phone. They had a locksmith on their way this morning."

Administrators at KPMG said Watt Brothers would continue to trade from the flagship store in Glasgow where a stock clearance event would begin on 19 October.

Joint Administrator Blair Nimmo said: "Despite the director's tireless efforts to increase margins, cut costs and recapitalise the business, Watt Brothers continued to incur trading losses as a result of the well-publicised challenges being experienced across the retail sector."

'Who will employ us?'

With over 30 years' experience working for the company between them, Suzy and Lesley fear they will struggle to find another job.

Lesley said: "Who is going to employ a 54-year-old person? I'm going out tomorrow with my CV.

"I've got two kids, one at home. Fortunately my husband has an income and my mum and dad can help."

Suzy meanwhile is faced with having to write her CV from scratch having worked in retail her whole adult life.

She said: "My son works in the local shop and he went to get me an application.

"I know the current climate is hard but the way we've been treated is a disgrace."

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