THE founder of Lakeland Leather has spoken of his devastation at being forced to put the 50-year-old family business into administration.

Richard Standring, who opened the first store in Ambleside in the 1960s, has vowed to do everything he can to save the 18 stores and 200 jobs now at risk of permanent closure.

Lakeland claims to be the UK’s largest specialist retailer of fine leather goods and has been owned by the Standring family for almost 50 years

It has 22 stores across the country including on Market Cross, Ambleside, Lake Road, Bowness, and also on Stricklandgate and at K-Village in Kendal.

Four stores, including the one at K-Village, closed immediately at the weekend.

The other 18 have closing down sales and are faced with an uncertain future.

"We've had a lot of tears in the stores," said Mr Standring.

"So many customers have long relationships with us that they feel part of the family. They feel that they're losing a family friend.

"We're asking them to keep their fingers crossed for us. We're not giving up. We hope to save the remaining stores and save Lakeland Leather."

The stores are a familiar sight in tourist and market towns but 'the pressure on the family has been immense in the past few years', added Mr Standring.  

Lakeland Leather has suffered from high fixed costs and a weight of unprofitable stores due to expensive lease costs.

Its business is dependent on selling leather coats, hand bags and luggage and recent mild winters has also hit sales.

Mr Standring added: "The odds seem stacked against us. We just about survived the depths of the recession but it left the business weak and in debt. Then last winter the weather was really mild so sales of our leather jackets and coats were down. It tipped us over the edge.

"Our staff are what keeps me fighting to survive. I can't thank them enough. Telling them they were being put in to redundancy consultation was the hardest thing I've ever done. Yet, no one was angry or demoralised. The spirit was incredible.

"I explained that to help the business survive and come through the other side we need to maximise sales in the next few months. The reaction of our staff was immediate.

"Closing down signs went up and they got down to serving customers to help the business. It wasn't just the stores, head office and warehouse staff worked across the weekend to help the business survive. I don't know what I've ever done to deserve such loyalty but I'll never forget how strong our people are."

Closing down sales have started across the estate in order to liquidate stocks to settle creditor claims.

It is hoped that heavy discounting across all leather goods and summer fashion lines will help keep the stores trading until the business is rescued.

“The decision to enter administration was taken after ceaseless interrogation of every possible alternative,” said managing director Martin Foster.

“It will be difficult but this is a great business with a long pedigree and loyal customer base. It deserves a second chance."

All gift cards and vouchers for Lakelands' stores are being honoured.