Debt-ridden Midlands consumer-finance group Homebuy plunged into administration owing around £100 million, The Birmingham Post can reveal today.
The news comes as the furious boss of one of the region's best-known advertising agencies said the collapse finished his business when it was hit by an unpaid sum of more than £250,000.
It has also emerged that Aim-listed Homebuy's shareholders are unlikely to receive a return on their investment.
The Aldridge-based business called in administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers last month in the wake of a failed bid to secure refinancing, put in some quarters at around £50 million, from its banks.
One of PwC's joint administrators Rob Hunt said it was hoped to attract a new investor or sell the business as a going concern. Three to four interested parties were in discussions this week.
He said Homebuy owed banks £75 million and its general body of hundreds of creditors a further £25 million.
A PwC spokesman said: "Since the date of their appointment, the joint administrators have been seeking to stabilise the group and explore expressions of interest in the business and assets under their control.
"However, based on the level of interest to date the joint administrators do not anticipate a return to the group's shareholders."
Homebuy - which also has an office at Shirley - hires out electrical equipment such as plasma TVs on a rent-to-buy-basis.
The group's unaudited 2005/06 turnover was £93 million and it employs around 1,500 staff throughout the UK with 100 in the Midlands.
The group has around 100,000 UK customers but faced spiralling debts.
The appointment of administrators on September 15 came after the suspension of shares on August 10 and the "inability of the group to secure additional finding to allow ongoing trading", PwC said.
Homebuy's results for the year to April 2006 were strong, with turnover up 208 per cent to £92.91 million, gross profit up 232 per cent to £69.51 million and pretax profit up by 347 per cent to £12.52 million.
However less than eight weeks later, the group went into administration, and now shareholders are calling for a probe into the collapse.
An angry former boss with Coleshill-based advertising agency Bertram Gough backed calls for an inquiry - saying the failure killed the business he jointly set up 16 years ago. A new operation, run by a former colleague, has now been launched.
Former Bertram Gough chief executive Robert Bertram said: "Homebuy was a major client and when it went into administration owing us in excess of £250,000, which we couldn't sustain, we had to call in the administrators.
"Psychologically, I feel like I have been harmed and financially I've lost my business and my income. I'm very angry, and very disappointed.
"I think there should be an inquiry. It won't help me but at least we'd know how this situation came about."
In a further twist, the business and assets of Bertram Gough were almost at once snapped up by James Hobday, a former director with the company.
Mr Hobday said the business has had been relaunched as BG Communications until the end of the year when it would be rebranded.
Twelve members of Bertram Gough's staff had been retained although five former employees were made redundant.
Matt Hardy, of Poppleton & Appleby, was appointed joint administrator after Bertram Gough ran into trouble.
He said "The business and assets of Bertram Gough Communications have been sold to B G Communications, as a going concern.
"We are still investigating the financial position of the company and it is currently too early to comment on the liabilities and the prospects for creditors."
A spokesman for AIM declined to comment on Homebuy, saying said the market never commented on individual companies.
Nobody would comment directly for Homebuy.