Mega World, the company that took over 123 Blokker stores in Belgium in February, has been declared bankrupt, with the jobs of all 650 employees now at risk.
Blokker sells mainly household goods, from kitchen equipment to soft furnishing and decoration. In the past few years the chain suffered losses from a switch by consumers to online shopping with the likes of Bol.com, as well as undercutting from even cheaper chains like Action.
In 2016 the company suffered a loss, and since then was struggling for life, when Dutch serial entrepreneur Dirk Bron stepped in this year to take over the chain in Belgium and rename it Mega World.
His promises were extravagant: sales increased fivefold in five years to €200 million, and people lining up in rows just to get into the shops.
The second promise came true, but not in the way Bron expected.
Not even a month after Bron took over, every Blokker store in the country – like all other non-essential retailers – was closed by order. Staff were on temporary unemployment, paid for by the taxpayer, but nothing could undo the damage done by lost sales, as customers were pushed even harder towards the internet.
Now the die is cast, and the judge at the commercial court yesterday, declaring Mega World bankrupt, placed part of the blame squarely on Bron’s shoulders, and accusing him outright of acting in bad faith.
Representing Blokker staff, one union representative said Bron had misrepresented his takeover from the outset, pointing to his condemnation in the Netherlands some years ago for mismanagement.
He is now being investigated in the Netherlands for fraud and money-laundering, and for possible fraud here in Belgium. Administrators appointed by the court of try to steer the company away from bankruptcy have complained that Bron gave them false information or none at all.
The administrators will now sell off the contents of all 123 Blokker stores in an effort to pay off the company’s €40 million debt. The staff, meanwhile, will receive compensation from the FFE, a fund for workers laid off by business closures, which offers a maximum €25,000.
The administrators will also try to avoid a complete closure, they said, by trimming the company to a size that might be able to restart.
“During our assignment as provisional administrators, there was interest from three companies considering a partial restart. We are now entering into those discussions,” administrator Thierry Lammar told De Tijd.