BOSSES from iconic Inverclyde bakers Aulds have placed their retail business into liquidation with 180 jobs set to go unless buyers can be found for the shops.

The household name which was established in Greenock more than 100 years ago has 26 shops through Scotland which are facing closure.

There are four in Greenock, one in Port Glasgow and one in Gourock as well as the company's fresh and frozen bakery factory in Brisbane Street - which has been spared the axe.

Shocked staff in two of the Greenock shops told the Telegraph they received calls at 1.50pm telling them about the bombshell.

One shop assistant, who has worked for Aulds for half her life, said: "I'm heartbroken.

"I cannot believe it.

"I never thought it would happen.

"It's part of Greenock.

"There'll be nothing left in the town at this rate.

"I was lost for words, the person on the phone had to ask if I was still there.

"I'm going to lose my job unless someone else buys it."

Another staff member at another Aulds shop in the town, told the Tele: "I've got some girls in the shop in tears.

"We should have seen the signs, an area manager left a few months ago and was never replaced.

"I've worked for the company for over 13 years, some have been nearer 30 years.

"I think they're trying to sell the retail side of the company as a whole.

"All our suppliers are local - it's going to hit everyone."

The move is part of a 'rescue plan' to allow Thomas Auld & Sons Ltd to focus on production and wholesale operations and safeguard 200 jobs across Brisbane Street and Inchinnan.

Aulds blame competition for the downfall of their shops.

Managing director Alan Marr, a fourth-generation descendent of founder Thomas Auld, who opened his first bakery store in 1900, said the drastic move was the only way to protect the rest of the business, which employs another 200 people.

The total workforce across the whole group is 380.

Mr Marr said: “We have invested considerable time and effort over a period of several months looking at alternative courses of action which would allow us to avoid the voluntary insolvency of our retail business.

"Unfortunately, the losses in our retail business are such that the rest of the group is no longer able to sustain it.

“We sincerely regret that a significant number of our colleagues will be affected by these circumstances, and we’ll be working closely with local job centres and other services to help people into new jobs if necessary.

“The Aulds brand is one of the last large independent retail bakers in Scotland and we passionately believe in our products and are absolutely committed to a successful future for this business.

"The other parts of our business will continue to operate and people who enjoy our products will still be able to buy them from their usual Scotmid and other local convenience stores.”

The group reported a loss of £430,000 on turnover of £15.4m in the year to April 2017 while turnover increased from £15.2m the previous year.

Greenock shoppers say they are shocked at the end of an era.

Laurie McGilp, 31, said: "It's a real shame.

"Aulds has been here as long as I can remember and I was a regular customer when I lived in Brisbane Street.

"It's very sad."

Marion Donnelly, 67, who lives in West Blackhall Street, said: "It's terrible. There will be no shops left in Greenock. I go in every second day, it's handy for me because I can't walk far and my neighbour lives out of the shop. I feel quite angry about it."