We won't make Blacks trendy, JD Sports vows

Peter Cowgill, the chief executive of JD Sports Fashion, had a Corporal Jones-style "don't panic" message yesterday for customers of Blacks Leisure, which he picked up for £20m from the administrators in January.

"Reports that I am going to make Blacks really trendy are quite untrue," Mr Cowgill said. "There'll be no loud music blasting at you. We will stay true to the core values of Blacks, but make the [customer] experience better."

JD Sports' sales topped £1bn for the first time in the year ended in January. When it first floated in 1996 sales were just £56m. Headline profits before exceptionals fell 7 per cent to £76m on revenues up 20 per cent at £1.06bn.

Mr Cowgill said: "That was a pretty good result given the tough trading conditions, the hike in VAT and early losses at Blacks. But there are positive signs, particularly from our European businesses."

Blacks lost £2.2m in the single month JD Sports owned it, and will probably continue to make losses in the first half. JD has already shut 70 loss-making Blacks stores, leaving it with 220, most of which Mr Cowgill hopes to keep, depending partly on how negotiations with landlords over new rental deals go.

He added: "We inherited a limited and unbalanced stock position, with a particularly severe lack of stocks in many core high-performing lines. The management team is investing a significant amount of time on developing relationships with the key brands and getting stocks flowing again."

Mr Cowgill is not holding his breath over increased demand for sportswear triggered by the Olympics or UEFA finals. He said: "The jury is out on them. But the reality will probably be that any gains we make in some areas will be lost because some stores will be hit by transport disruption or lack of access during the Games."

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