Jan Cameron's discount variety store chain lost $114 million over the past three years and had a net assets deficiency of $117.7 million when it went into voluntary administration last month.
Trade creditors owed $96.9 million by Ms Cameron's Retail Adventures Pty Ltd, which owns the Chickenfeed range of stores, were told at meetings yesterday that administrators Deloitte would have to realise more than $100 million from the sale of assets to make a return to unsecured creditors.
Ms Cameron told creditors that ongoing operating losses over the past three years and excessive operating costs prompted her decision to place the company into voluntary administration late last month.
She will continue to run 238 remaining Crazy Clark's and Sam's Warehouse stores under a licence agreed with Deloitte and has advised Deloitte of her intention to make an offer to buy the business, either outright or through a deed of company arrangement.
Deloitte partner Vaughan Strawbridge told the meetings that no other offers for the business had been received, although a sale process had not yet formally commenced and final bids would not be due until January 31.
"We are not precluding a sale to another interested party and will run a sale process," he said.
Landlords and suppliers who have not been paid for stock ordered in the last few months fear that any return to unsecured creditors will be negligible, given the extent of the liabilities and ongoing trading losses.
At simultaneous meetings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane attended by more than 200 creditors, suppliers and landlords questioned events before the company went into voluntary administration, the terms of the licence agreement, Ms Cameron's role as majority shareholder and secured creditor, and trading terms arrangements with her new company, DSG.
DSG is negotiating to buy stock to keep the remaining stores open, especially over Christmas. However, suppliers fear they may lose more money if the group goes into liquidation. To make matters more confusing, DSG will not have title over the stock.
"Unless the administrators make some fundamental changes, we're just heading for another train wreck," one creditor said.
Mr Strawbridge told creditors he could offer no guarantees or indemnities and suppliers had to come to their own conclusions about their relationship with DSG.
Mr Strawbridge said the licence agreement was the best way to keep the company trading and preserve value for creditors and staff. "We're trying to right-size the business so we have a profitable business we can sell," he said.
The administrators could terminate the licence agreement if the terms, most of which are confidential, were breached.
But if the licence agreement were terminated, the administrators would not have the funding to buy stock, more stores would close and more staff would be made redundant.
As part of the administration. Mr Strawbridge will investigate whether Retail Adventures was trading while insolvent and whether pre-payments were made to creditors.
In the month before its collapse, Retail Adventures had total assets of $150.8 million, including $14.8 million in cash and stock worth $103.7 million.
But total liabilities amounted to $268.5 million, including $96.9 million owed to trade creditors, at least $17 million to employees and about $113 million in non-current borrowings and current loans. Total creditors' claims are expected to exceed $270 million.
Deloitte plans to spend the next three or four weeks closing down the rest of the 32 unprofitable stores and working with DSG to reduce costs before embarking on a sale process for the remaining business. Final bids are due by January 31 and a report to creditors will be released in February, when a second creditors' meeting will be held.
Retail Adventures lost $28 million before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in 2012 after incurring losses of $47 million in 2011 and $39 million in 2010.
Ms Cameron, who made her fortune selling her controlling stake in Kathmandu for almost $300 million in 2006, outlaid $85 million to buy the chain of 400 "$2 shops" from receivers after it first collapsed in 2008.
Over the past three years, almost 100 stores and two distribution centres have been closed, with the loss of around 1000 jobs, and Ms Cameron has injected another $80 million into the business to keep it afloat.
She is owed $80 million and has a fixed and floating charge over the company's assets.