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Stockmann shop steward: Oulu shutdown threat "shock" to employees

Shop steward Pekka Tolonen says that the beginning of employer-employee talks at the Oulu Stockmann department store and the imminent threat of it being closed down came completely unexpectedly. One analyst has gone as far as to call Stockmann a "company in crisis".

Image: Yle

The 230 employees of the Stockmann department store in the northern city of Oulu were given a rude awakening on Friday morning: employer-employee negotiations, which almost always mean redundancies, have begun and they involve every single worker.

"No one had the foggiest idea that this was coming, it was a shock," says Stockmann shop steward Pekka Tolonen.

The lease on the property being used by Stockmann in the centre of the business district of Oulu expires within two years. No follow-up agreement can be guaranteed until the new rents are in, and Stockmann is now considering shutting its Oulu store down when the lease is up.

"We’ve still got hope," Tolonen says. "Negotiations will start in a few weeks, and we will work towards finding a softer solution to the situation."

Tolonen notes he is disappointed in the gravity of the company’s actions, hot on the heels of last year’s savings measures. Oulu residents polled also said that Stockmann leaving would transform the city centre for the worse.

"Company in crisis"

Tolonen says he believes the dire straits of the Oulu Stockmann are due to a number of variables.

"The decline in purchasing power has been noticeable here, with big employers jumping ship," he says, referring to Microsoft and other companies. "The sharp decline in Russian customers has also taken its toll."

A new Sokos department store is soon to open in Oulu as well, with speculations that Stockmann’s withdrawal is tied to the new shopping centre.

"The Sokos isn’t ready yet so its effects are pretty hard to gauge," Tolonen says. "But competition should never be feared."

Stockmann's financial statements were released on Friday, and showed 42.9 million euros in the red.

"Stockmann is definitely a company in crisis right now," analyst Robin Santavirta from Handelsbanken says. "Online sales are booming and department store chains are feeling the squeeze. This can be seen in the figures of other stores as well, like Anttila."