Blacks appoints new CEO as turnaround continues

Blacks appoints new CEO as turnaround continues
Millets, owned by Blacks Leisure, which today announced a reduction in losses for the 2010/11 financial year

By Ben Sillitoe - 10:18AM - Wed 4th May 2011

Outdoor equipment retailer Blacks Leisure has today named the boss of online lingerie specialist Figleaves.com, Julia Reynolds, as its new CEO following another year of change at the company.

The new recruit will arrive at the end of the summer to continue the business’ turnaround strategy, which started under departing CEO Neil Gillis and has seen the group streamline its property portfolio in the last year as well as open itself up for a takeover.

Today’s naming of a new CEO to lead the business in its next stage of development comes as a trading statement for the 12 months to February 26th shows that the group, which owns Blacks and Millets, has significantly reduced losses compared to 2009/10.

Loss before tax for the 2010/11 financial year was £5.3 million and loss before tax and exceptional items was £6.6 million, compared to £43.6 million and £14.4 million respectively one year before.

Total revenue from continuing activities was £201.9 million, which represented a decrease of 16 per cent on last year and is a direct result of the closure of a number of stores as part of the group’s company voluntary arrangement (CVA) agreed in December 2009.

Although Blacks Leisure announced at the time of the CVA that it would be closing 88 loss-making stores as part of its necessary restructuring, the last 12 months have also seen 13 new rebranded outlets opened – and the retailer is confident about their continued success.

David Bernstein, Chairman of the group, said: “These stores are already making a positive overall contribution to the group and are generally trading ahead of expectations and together now account for around ten per cent of total group revenues.

“These stores are principally larger units, with the trading space to offer our ranges more effectively, and which are benefitting from the capital investment that has been made in ensuring these stores are fitted out to a standard which is appropriate for our brand propositions.”

As for the future of the group, Reynolds will take charge of a very different looking Blacks to that which Gillis arrived at in November 2007.

Its boardwear segment, which trades under the Freespirit brand, has gradually declined in recent years, and will be phased out by the halfway point of the current financial year, either converted into Blacks or Millets fascias or closed altogether.

Additionally there will be a greater focus on internet trading, which is perhaps one of the main reasons Reynolds, who has helped grow Figleaves to become a leading player in its sector, was chosen as its new CEO.

Blacks Leisure’s internet channel within its outdoor products division grew by 44.2 per cent year-on-year, and accounted for 4.8 per cent of total group sales during the 12-month period.

New online platforms for both Blacks and Millets have recently been launched, and further development is expected in the coming months, which suggests that the company sees this as a feasible way of regaining its place as the market leader in outdoor equipment.

The emergence of new competitors in the last few years such as Go Outdoors, which has grown considerably over this period and has major expansion plans for the 12 months ahead, has provided a major challenge to the Blacks business during its turnaround process, but the group’s management believes the actions it has taken in 2010 are the right ones to secure the future of the business.

Departing CEO Gillis said today: “Blacks Leisure now has a more focussed estate of stores, a significantly reduced overhead base and a proven new store format which has been successfully rolled out this year.

“The business is now well placed to move from turnaround to recovery with a focus on outstanding retailing to restore it to a leadership position within outdoor retail.”

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