Footwear retailer Shoe Zone has acted fast to acquire rival Stead & Simpson after the troubled group went into administration earlier this week.

Less than 24 hours after PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was appointed as administrator for the beleaguered shoe chain on Monday, Stead & Simpson was sold to a new company backed by the Shoe Zone group.

"This sale will enable 309 stores to continue trading, safeguard some 2,700 jobs and ensure that Stead & Simpson continues to have a place on the high street," said PWC partner Rob Hunt.

"Sadly, 37 loss-making branches are not included in the sale and we have little choice but to close these immediately. If this transaction had not taken place it is highly likely that significantly more store closures would have occurred."

Up to 160 jobs will be lost at the 37 branches affected by closure.

The acquisition by Shoe Zone follows its purchase of the Shoefayre retail chain from the Co-operative Group in September last year.

The addition of about 200 Shoefayre branches and 309 Stead & Simpson shops means that Shoe Zone has more than doubled the number of outlets in its portfolio in the past four months.

"We are delighted to acquire the Stead & Simpson business and continue to play our part in the consolidation of the footwear market," said Shoe Zone chief executive Anthony Smith.

"We look forward to returning the Stead & Simpson business back to profitability in the coming months."

Leicester-based Stead & Simpson, with an annual turnover of GBP140m (US$279m), posted an annual loss of GBP2.9m in 2006, leading its holding company to embark on a disposal process in December last year.

Earlier this month, the company sold the Famous Footwear and Philip Jones retail brands, securing some 375 jobs.