Norfolk Trading Standards (NTS) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are understood to be looking into financial agreements made by shop owners with Rhino Media Group (RMG), NTS and associated finance companies.
Sources confirmed NTS and the FCA had contacted them in relation to loans worth tens of thousands of pounds for digital media screens taken out by retailers.
RMG had promised loan repayments would completely offset advertising payments. However, Rhino Media Group ceased payments to stores in September and warned in November it would enter liquidation unless additional funding was found.
Despite the missing payments from Rhino Media Group, finance terms mean stores are still held liable for repaying the finance firms which provided the loans – Grenke, LDF (White Oak Finance), UCFS, One PM Finance and Arkle.
Describing trading standard’s focus, one source said: “They are on the ball and looking into everything, the finance companies and Rhino Media itself.” RMG managing director Roger Van Deelen confirmed he was in contact with trading standards.
NTS confirmed that it is in contact with the RMG and the FCA, and its enquiries would be “ongoing until enough information is collated to inform an enforcement approach, if indeed this is applicable”. It urged stores affected to contact Citizens Advice.
Another source claimed the growing pressure is making finance firms agree to wipe off some, or even all, of the remaining debts owed by stores. “One PM have agreed to write off all remaining payments that were owed by one retailer. Eventually the others will follow suit,” they claimed.
Letters from One PM seen by Better Retailing confirmed the write-off terms. The source also claimed UCFS has accepted reduced payments of £100 per month from stores rather than £299.
Last week, RMG-controlled screens in stores were unable to display messages due to RMG’s failure to pay third-party digital display company Vojo-Media. Several sources claimed the company was owed “substantial” amounts by RMG.
Van Deelen admitted no messages will be displayed on the screens until the new year. He claimed meetings with potential funders had taken place and creditors “believe RMG can and will turn this around”. However, one creditor said the situation was “not hopeful”.
The NFRN, the NFSP and VoJo-Media are in negotiations with the lenders on behalf of shop owners. VoJo-Media is also working with finance companies to provide retailers on-screen promotions from symbol groups with an opt-in option to display third-party advertising and receive a share of the advert revenue.
Rival MMS Digital has been signing up former RMG customers at discounted £1-per-day rates to allow them to use the screens they have in stores.
One PM, Arkle, UCFS and LDF were unable to comment. Grenke said it had provided “clear and transparent” funding terms in relation to RMG precursor Viewble Media. Referencing “enhanced due diligence” procedures, a spokesperson said it was “difficult to understand why customers believe they have been mis-sold the finance contract”.