Blacks gets new chief and £35m bank boost

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The Independent Online

The outdoor retailer Blacks Leisure boosted its recovery today byunveiling much-reduced losses and the appointment of a new chief executive. The Northampton-based group, which has 308 stores, also announced that it had secured banking facilities worth £35m for the next 18 months.

Its restructuring efforts, which have included the closure of loss-making stores, helped cut losses to £5.3m from £43.6m in the year to 26 February, but Blacks admitted that recent trading had been difficult.

With the current dry spell adding to pressure on the high street, Blacks said sales levels in the new financial year were below expectations.

Despite the warning, shares in the company opened higher yesterday as the Millets owner confirmed that its new boss will be Julia Reynolds, the highly regarded chief executive of online retailer Figleaves and a former Tesco executive.

Neil Gillis, who is stepping down as chief executive after three years in the role, said Blacks was now a more focused business with significantly reduced overheads and a better format for its new stores.

He added: "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."

Mr Gillis has overseen the closure of 88 loss-making stores as part of a rescue deal with landlords in 2009, as well as the roll-out of new stores in locations better suited to the Blacks format. He pointed out that the 13 new stores opened during the last financial year accounted for around 10 per cent of the company's turnover in the period.

The new banking facility with Bank of Scotland will run until July and will be automatically extended to November if the new chief executive joins the company before the end of September.

As well as the core facility of up to £35m, a further £3m will be available during seasonal peaks.

Shares in Blacks Leisure closedup 11.7 per cent, or 1.63p at 14.25p, valuing the company at £13m.