France's largest shoe and apparel retailing group has indicated that it will finalize and announce its new reorganization program, which is expected to be drastic, between Jan. 23 and 27. One of the casualties could be the André chain of urban shoe shops that was at the origin of the group, although Vivarte denied a report that it has been put up for sale.

Patrick Puy, the new company doctor hired by Vivarte's new shareholders last October, has declined so far to say what he will do with André or with some other shoe retail operations such as Fosco or Merkal in Spain, which are said to be up for sale, too. Puy, whose mandate is expected to end in September, took the place of Stéphane Maquaire, who lasted only six months and is now running Manor, the Swiss chain of department stores owned by Maus Frères. The group's previous management had already eliminated 1,850 jobs.

Meanwhile, after demonstrating in front of a government building on Jan. 5, the labor unions that represent Vivarte's 17,000 remaining employees have started to work on an alternative business plan that they would submit to the government for support, in case their demands for the preservation of André are not met. Union officials have been unable to get confirmation of a report that the number of André stores may be reduced from 135 to only between 60 and 80 units. Bankruptcy proceedings and a sale of the chain cannot be excluded either.

Vivarte already announced last September its intention to shut down or sell 97 units of its low-priced Halle aux Chaussures chain of shoe stores, which has been losing a lot of money. Gemo, a similar French retail chain that belongs to Vivarte's main competitor in the footwear sector, Eram, is said to be unprofitable, too. Eram has already started to reorganize its network of 30 stores in Belgium, indicating that half its staff may be dimissed in the next couple of years.

Evidently, both Vivarte and Eram are suffering from difficult market conditions and the competition from fast-fashion chains and more or less pure e-commerce players. These have been among the reasons that recently led to the disappearance of Bata from the French shoe retailing landscape.

To improve its liquidity, Vivarte is still planning to sell two of its apparel chains – Chevignon and Kookai – as well as Pataugas, a brand of footwear owned by the group. Pataugas' sale should be completed shortly. Chevignon and Kookai should follow in February and March, said Puy earlier this week, declaring his intention to reduce Vivarte's debt load from €1.4 billion to €600 million within two months.

Some offshore suppliers have decided not to work with Vivarte anymore because they cannot get credit insurance due to the high debts of the group. At least one of its bankers is said to have been entrusted with the job of finding buyers for some of its assets.