Primark overseas director steps down

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The Independent Online

Primark's director of international trading has quit after less than a year, at a time when the discount fashion retailer is cranking up its European expansion programme.

The high street chain, owned by Associated British Foods, announced the departure of Guy Young, who was also responsible for buying stock for the company's overseas stores, to staff last week.

The revelation is likely to raise eyebrows among retail analysts because Mr Young was hired from Primark's discount rival on the Continent, C&A, only last summer. It is unclear if he has another job to go to.

The Independent has also learned that Primark plans to open a store in the Belgian city of Liège in November – its fourth new overseas territory in less than a year – and in Austria next year as it presses ahead with its plans to conquer Europe. Since December, Primark has launched in the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany.

Details of the international expansion come as Primark, which declined to comment, today unveils its trading update for the 40 weeks to 20 June. The figures are expected to show that Primark has outperformed some of its bigger, mid-market rivals. However, rising unemployment among its core customer base – women aged between 15 and 34 – could dent its hitherto powerful sales in the months ahead.

Primark, which has 189 stores, most of them in the UK, Ireland and Spain, opened its first Dutch outlet in the port city of Rotterdam in December, then followed up with new stores in Lisbon, Portugal, and the German city of Bremen in May. For the 24 weeks to 28 February, Primark's total sales grew by 18 per cent to £1.06bn, while its profits were up 10 per cent at £122m. Like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new store openings, rose by 5 per cent to buck the downward trend in the retail sector.

It is understood that Seamus Halford, the deputy managing director of Primark, has recently been focusing more on its international business, signalling the growing importance to the chain of overseas expansion. However, there is no suggestion that this has anything to do with the departure Mr Young.

Mr Halford is one of Primark's so-called "gang of four" who, along with the company's executive chairman Arthur Ryan, have helped to grow the chain into a retail powerhouse after it first opened in Dublin in 1969.