Michael Murray: Sports Direct’s upmarket transformation will take 4 years

Mike Ashley son-in-law Michael Murray: Sports Direct's transformation to
Mike Ashley has not hidden his ambitions to turn Sports Direct into the "Selfridges of sport"
// Sports Direct head of elevation Michael Murrary says the retailer’s transformation into the “Selfridges of sport” will take 4 years
// Michael Murray is also the future son-in-law of Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley
// He also admitted that the transformation was not yet happening at the pace that he would like

Mike Ashley’s future son-in-law has told two newspapers that it would take Sports Direct at least four years before it completes its transformation into the “Selfridges of sport”.

It comes almost a week after Michael Murray, who was appointed Sports Direct head of elevation last year, told Sky News that the company was “definitely not a business in crisis” despite concerns over its recent acquisition campaigns.

Murray, who is engaged to Ashley’s daughter Anna, is tasked with making a success out of Sports Direct – especially its eponymous sportswear chain, which recently booked a marginal 0.3 per cent uptick in full-year sales to £2.19 billion.

On a like-for-like basis, which excludes new stores, sales fell 1.6 per cent.

Speaking in The Sunday Times and the Financial Times over the weekend, Murray indicated he had sweeping powers at the company founded and run by his future father-in-law, despite the fact that he is not on its board or payroll.

He outlined a plan to transform Sports Direct from a discount sportswear chain into an upmarket one that offers shoppers an experience.

One such customer experience initiative is through in-store video gaming partnership with video games retailer Game Digital, of which Sports Direct gained majority control just weeks before it acquired Jack Wills in a pre-pack administration deal last week.

“There will be a point when Sports Direct becomes better known for its elevated shops, but it will take a number of years,” Murray told The Times.

“It’s a bit like Primark. No one would have been caught dead in Primark 10 years ago but they’ve managed to keep their value proposition and make it cool and credible.”

However, admitted that transformation was not going at the speed he’d like.

“It’s not not working, it’s just not going fast enough, they’re two different things,” he told The Times.

Sports Direct has recently been on a spending spree of troubled retailers, including Evans Cycles and Sofa.com.

Its most notable acquisition was House of Fraser, which it took year ago in a £90 million pre-pack administration deal.

However, Sports Direct used its annual report to admit that House of Fraser was in terminal decline and that more stores may need to close.

On its own, the department store recorded a full-year operating loss of £54.6 million on the back of revenues of £330.6 million.

Murray said that as well as improving the retailers Sports Direct has acquired, his job was also sometimes to act as a “translator” for Ashley.

Referring to how Ashley told media last year about his ambitious to turn House of Fraser into the “Harrods of the high street”, Murray said he “likes to make punchy statements and then it’s up to me to figure out what that actually means”.

Murray also used the interviews to call on the government to make changes to its business rates regime and to speed up transitional relief for larger retailers to prevent more closures.

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