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Carpetright CEO Lord Harris of Peckham


With extra police on the streets and new measures announced yesterday to help riot-hit retailers, the shameful disturbances witnessed on the streets of the UK over the last few days will hopefully be a thing of the past, even if they have left a number of indelible images in the public consciousness.

One of the most unforgettable events from the last week was the burning art deco Carpetright building in Tottenham, north London, which represented a major property casualty from the first night of widespread rioting and looting last Saturday.

On Tuesday local authorities were left with no choice but to knock down the building which has stood proudly since the 1930s and also contained 26 residential properties above the store.

Carpetright CEO & Chairman Lord Harris of Peckham spent Wednesday meeting the families who have been made homeless by the arson attack, and he explained to Retail Gazette today that he is heavily involved in helping them get their lives back on track.

“It was completely mindless,” he said of the violence in Tottenham.

“The families were lucky to get out, they have nothing left at all and they don’t know what is going to happen.

“I’m fighting to ensure they get their insurance, and I think we’re winning that battle at the moment.”

Lord Harris, who is a Tory peer and has over 50 years of experience in carpet retailing having run Harris Queensway until it was taken over in 1988, has pledged money from his own funds to the affected families “to keep them going over the next two months”. He has also promised to continue to provide assistance as they begin to piece their lives back together.

“I have agreed to give them new carpets for their new homes – I will do this personally, not through Carpetright,” he explained.

Like many British retailers, the flooring specialist suffered blows from the street violence in various parts of the country over the last week.

Some 16 Carpetright stores nationwide were damaged during the riots, with looters and vandals attacking outlets on the high street as well as shops located at out-of-town retail parks, but the message from its CEO echoes the wartime message of ‘keep calm and carry on’.

“For us larger retailers, we’ve just got to get on with it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he remarked.

“To small retailers I would say motivate yourselves, we need you, the country needs you; and get on with your lives and don’t give up.”

Addressing the perpetrators of the violence he was equally forthright, saying: “Think twice. Think about how you would feel in 20 to 30 years’ time, and whether you would like to see your children doing the same thing.”

This week’s events arguably could not have occurred at a worse time for the retail industry, which has seen a large number of businesses collapse since the start of the year and general high street sales held up by widespread promotions and special offers, which ultimately have a major impact on margins.

Trading in household goods has been particularly slow, with home & DIY specialists and electricals retailers among the retail businesses suffering most, highlighted by the demise of companies such as Habitat and Focus DIY in the first half of 2011.

Lord Harris does not expect this week’s lootings and riots to have a huge impact on consumer confidence in terms of shopping, but he is well aware of the fragile economic environment we are currently living through.

“It’s too early to say how this week’s events will impact retail, there’s a lot of stock been taken from different stores over the country and I might be able to answer this question in the coming weeks,” he noted.

“I’ve made it clear before that the trading environment in household goods has been very disappointing lately. The sector, and the industry as a whole, is in for a difficult time with inflation expected to hit five per cent, pay rises only at two per cent, VAT at 20 per cent and income tax going up.

“People are certainly going to have less money to spend, aren’t they?”

Lord Harris has previously indicated that it will be 2012 before the retail sector leaves its current slump, but economic patterns in recent months have prompted him to revise this forecast to the following year.

Carpetright sales and profits were down considerably during the last financial year, and while trading improved slightly in the first quarter of 2011/12 the group is currently restructuring its store portfolio and expecting a tough battle to attract customers in the months ahead.

This week’s mindless violence and its immediate derogatory effect on the public and businesses means, however, that questions about store development and whether or not shoppers are willing to buy household products are probably best saved for another time.

When some people do not have a home at all, it is clear where our thoughts should currently be directed.

Published on Friday 12 August by Editorial Assistant

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