THE boss of Beales has urged people to rally round Bournemouth’s shops – and taken a swipe at those who think the town cannot support three big department stores.

Tony Brown said the retail environment was “challenging” but that retailers and tourism chiefs were working hard to bring people into the town centre.

His comments came after Jeff Bray, senior lecture in marketing and retail management at Bournemouth University, said he could not see all three of the town’s department stores existing in five years time.

House of Fraser was recently revealed to have had talks with a business turnaround specialist as it seeks to refinance or extend a £224million debt. Debenhams issued a profits warning in January after disappointing sales around Christmas.

However, Bournemouth-headquartered chain Beales reported a 4.2 per cent rise in sales at its stores in the six weeks that ended just after Christmas.

Chief executive Mr Brown said he was “frustrated” that commentators who were not in the retail trade could give “unqualified” verdicts on shops.

“Is retail challenging at the moment? One hundred per cent it’s challenging,” he said.

“It’s got a perfect storm of upward-only costs. It’s got business rates, rent reviews, the living wage – that doesn’t mean I’m against the living wage, but it’s an upward-only cost – and it’s got utilities.

“As far as Bournemouth is concerned, we have a number of empty shop units and they’re driven by upward-only costs. M&S is closing because they’re rationalising their store portfolio and they’ve got a store close by in Castlepoint.”

But he said the town was “full of talented entrepreneurs and business people who give their time for free” to help out on bodies promoting the town.

“We’ve got to encourage people to come into town. That everybody’s job, from the council as far as car parking is concerned, to everybody working together, all those talented individuals that give their time for free to make the experience worthwhile,” he said.

He urged people to come to the town centre and said people were working “to make the experience of coming into town better than sitting in front of a computer”.

He added that it was important to send the right signals to the big retail chains and not to generate "negative PR".

“If it’s a town which believes in itself then you’re going to get the marketing director or financial director of House of Fraser saying ‘That’s a town that’s thriving, we’d better get behind it’,” he added.

Dr Bray – who has a degree in retail management, a masters in business administration and a PhD in consumer behaviour – said he was “very supportive” of Beales and wished them “every success in the future”.