Retirement's off as Lord Harris decides to stay with Carpetright

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The Independent Online

The Tory peer and Carpetright founder Lord Harris of Peckham has shelved plans to retire from his business in the latest of a string of management changes at the embattled flooring chain.

Lord Harris, who had intended to retire in September after 56 years in the carpet trade, will now remain after the appointment of a new chairman, expected later this year.

It is understood he is keen to protect the interests of the retailer's founding family, which has a 20 per cent shareholding in the company.

He said: "The decision has been made on reflection. It will give continuity to the business for the workers in the factory and the shops."

The deputy chairman, Baroness Noakes, had begun the search for Lord Harris's replacement and will complete the process but will not now continue as interim chairman after a replacement is found.

Lord Harris said: "There's no point having a chairman for a month and then changing. Nothing huge has changed, I was always going to be here to help [incoming boss Wilf Walsh]."

Carpetright last month announced that Mr Walsh, a former executive at Coral and HMV, will become chief executive in July after the previous boss, Darren Shapland, left suddenly last year, and part-successor Graham Harris was made redundant last month.

Greg Bromley, a retail consultant at Conlumino, expressed concern over the direction of the business.

"With the departure of the founding family imminent, and the appointment of a new chief executive fairly unfamiliar with the field, the future of the business is unclear," he said.

Carpetright posted a 40 per cent fall in operating profits to £6.9m in the year to 26 April. Sales at stores open longer than a year fell 0.2 per cent and total sales fell 2.2 per cent to £447.7m.

The finance director Neil Page said: "We are making good progress in the Netherlands and there are signs that market is improving. We are confident we will be able to report an improving in that business in the coming financial year."

Mr Page said the UK market was "volatile" and, although the UK economy and housing market is improving, the retailer is battling fierce competition in the market typified by widespread deals amongst independent retailers.

Mr Bromley added: "Carpetright has been taking proactive measures to improve its performance over the year; however, it is evident these are not proving effective enough and this is a poor set of results for the flooring specialist.

"Most worryingly, it has failed to capitalise on an improvement in trading conditions in the UK, notably a more-mobile housing market."

The carpet and beds retailer is also revamping older, tired stores. It refurbished 89 outlets last year and has now modernised 275 of its 472 shops.