Outdoor pursuits brought mixed results for the expanding Blacks Leisure group over the New Year. The sportswear and fashion group reported sales figures up eight per cent in the Christmas period following its #51m acquisition in December of the Millets, Free Spirit and Air stores that made up the Outdoor Group. But, the group looked on as chief executive and chartered accountant Simon Bentley recovered in a Swiss hospital after surviving a near fatal skiing accident in late January. Finance director Andy Hall says he found himself pushed from the backroom to the front of shop as number two to ‘look after the whole caboodle’ as his boss convalesced. And today the 44-year-old chartered accountant, who joined Blacks last March, oversees his first annual results announcement with the group. Blacks positioned itself wisely throughout the past year as the consolidating sports retail sector has climbed out of over capacity. A slow down in profits across the sector saw a four per cent decline in like-for-like sales at First Sport, the group’s main sportswear brand, and stagnant profits that had crept up only 0.7% over the year. Hall says the group’s high street presence now caters across a full range of budgets, with last year’s purchase of the 28-strong Scottish-based Sports Shop chain and the Outdoor Group, complementing its Blacks Outdoor, First Sport, AV and O’Neill outlets. An e-tailing strategy is also in place, with two websites, but Hall stressed the group’s foundations were beneath its chain of 428 stores. ‘Our under 25-year-old customer still likes to visit the high street in a group, while the 25-35 age group is more likely to go on the net,’ he says. He adds that a new 300,000 sq ft central depot at Peterlee, County Durham would also make significant distribution savings. Hall, who started out at a small Bristol-based accountancy firm before moving to Price Waterhouse in 1979, worked in retail and leisure at Whitbread before arriving at Blacks.
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