The week that begins is definitive for the future of the chain of low-cost stores Justo & Bueno, owned by the Merchandise company. The reason: if those interested in presenting a rescue plan, as defined in the public hearing on May 12, do not do so, the company will go into final liquidation.
This was ratified by Billy Escobar Pérez, Superintendent of Companies, to EL TIEMPO after pointing out that “all times have already expired and it is time to decide the future of Justo & Bueno.”
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The official was also emphatic in pointing out that “no more delays are allowed nor are there more deadlines”, so the proposals that may arrive this week “must be very concrete, specific and reasonable” to make a decision on the matter.
The official hopes that any of the pending proposals to be received this week will ensure the viability of the business, since a liquidation would have a great social impact.
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“Hopefully those options are given because it would be to inject resources, meet pending obligations and continue the operation of the company. That is a desirable scenario”, Escobar Pérez specified.
Until last April, some 5,700 people were still linked to the organization, out of the nearly 9,300 direct workers it had in 2020 before the pandemic. Their directives spoke of more than 20,000 jobs if the indirect ones were added.
A possible liquidation would also impact some 280 suppliers, many of them family businesses and micro-enterprises that supplied merchandise to the 1,320 Justo & Bueno stores that were able to operate throughout the country a couple of years ago. Today there is only talk of about 70, when at the beginning of the year they were around 700.
However, more than two months have passed since a group of creditors at the aforementioned public hearing They asked Judge Santiago Londoño for a deadline to present a plan that would allow the Justo & Bueno stores to continue operating, but to date there is nothing concrete, except for some brief announcements made known last week by one of the groups of interested creditors, the one led by Alfonso Giraldo Castro, of Lobbying & Consulting.
In the published text it is indicated that the creditors it represents will contribute “the capital that is required to cancel all the obligations with the Dian, the municipalities, as well as everything that the company has recognized as debt to employees, on the occasion of the employment contracts and other obligations whose payment corresponds in the terms of Decree 560 of 2020”.
It also indicated that everything owed from January 18, 2022 to the date on which a final decision is made would be paid, including rental fees and public services, and that the capital contribution offer It will be presented formally when determined by the Superintendency of Companies.
Until last April, the pending obligations to pay workers, suppliers, landlords, public service companies and the Dian reached 134,000 million pesos.
However, that figure would already be around 200,000 million pesos, if one takes into account that three more months have already passed since that first balance made by the agents in charge of the process.
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The announcement of this new rescue plan was received with considerable reserve by a large group of owners of the premises where the stores operate, some of whom stated that it was the same as always, since there is no talk of a proposal for fund, with times or commitments regarding pending obligations, nor was the name of the supposed fund or investors that would contribute the capital, of which the amount is not mentioned, provided.
“We received that communication and another one in the past days, but in both cases the specific proposal is not known and it is still one more expectation. The Super (Societies) is pachydermic and from my side I don’t think it will workbecause the investors are not known and it may end up being a rescue of funds, but it continues to be a company without backing assets and in 6 months we will be in the same “, says Óscar Bravo, one of the affected lessors and who leads a group of local owners who insist before the authority that their properties be returned to them.
In fact, some have made the decision to lock their premises with padlocks and even weld the doors to prevent personnel from entering them, many of which remain abandoned, with damaged merchandise and empty shelves.
Employees of the Justo & Bueno chain of stores, who still hope to keep their jobs, are also on tenterhooks, saying that to date they do not know much about the progress of the company’s rescue process.
“The liquidator does not answer (our) calls or emails and only an extension of time is evident, as you can see by postponing the hearing three times. The workers had the hardest part, because only some were paid EPS, as well as pending work disabilities, there is talk of a very small number of workers per day, “says César Higuita, representative of one of the workers’ unions of Justo & Bueno, who at the end of May sent a letter to Santiago Londoño, Delegate Superintendent of Insolvency Proceedings, and to Darío Laguado, settlement agent, expressing their disagreement with the treatment they are receiving and the lack of protection of their labor rights.
There is a second ongoing proposal structured by Marco Gerardo Monroy Rosas, on behalf of MGM Sustainable Energy Funds I and II, which is said to have been sent to liquidator Darío Laguado in early July.
This mentions another global fund based in the United States and a prestigious Business Group willing to invest, but without indicating its name, in addition to the creation of a new vehicle in charge of signing contracts with all interest groups (lessors , employees, suppliers and public service providers).
Negotiation with the distribution centers is also proposed and the owners of the premises are offered three months’ advance payment (August, September and October) of the leases, as well as paying the utility bills, many of which they are suspended.
For the employees there will be contracts with the new company, bonus payments, one initial and another per year, subject to the achievement of goals, while the services of specialized human resources companies will be contracted.
As for the suppliers, they promise contracts and advance payments in specific cases. They also talk about buying the brands and fixed assets that belong to Merchandise. In addition, they will inject capital for the massive purchase of products and have a flow of working capital to cover the needs until the moment of self-sufficiency of the operation.
Jeimmy Alfonso Verano, a lawyer and also a representative of the owners of premises rented from Justo & Bueno, says he is wary of those proposals that have been cooking for a long time without anything materializing, that is why he is wary of them.
“What we know so far is nothing new or concrete, it is what the rule says that those who take control of Justo & Bueno must comply with, that is, the obligations that the company has up to now. The letter is nothing different from what has been said so far, it is the same of the same. The issue is very complex and gives the impression that this is intended to calm the spirits of the affected parties and of those of us who want the restitution of the premises”, he points out.
They request the delivery of the real estate
The owners of more than 150 premises in which Justo & Bueno stores operated, today closed as a result of the crisis that the company is going through, state that they are not opposed to its rescue plans, but that they do not want to participate in this. They only want their premises to be restored, many of which today are totally abandoned, full of rodents, with damaged merchandise and suspended public services.
This is how they will let you know through a public letter in the next few days, in which they state the situation in which they find themselves: indebted with the drop by drop, without receiving lease payments for more than 16 months, with embargo orders and seeing how the investment of years deteriorates over time.
CARLOS ARTURO GARCIA M.