Sears to relaunch troubled Olympus

BY NIGEL COPE

Olympus Sports, the loss-making high street sports chain, is to be relaunched later this year in an attempt to turn the group around. Sears, the retail group that owns Olympus as well as Selfridges and Freemans mail order, says the stores will be given a completely new look inside and out and the range of goods will be changed to focus more on women and a slightly older audience.

A spokesman for Sears said: "Labels such as Nike and Reebok provide a very strong offer aimed at young men but they pay less attention to women who do sports and that number is growing." Liam Strong, Sears' chief executive, said: "The shops will be very different and much less cluttered. There is a decent business to be had here."

It is a business Olympus has struggled to address since the 1980s. Last year the 140 Olympus shops and 58 department store concessions are estimated to have lost several million pounds. Although still one of the best-known names in sports retailing in the UK, the chain has struggled to adapt to a downturn in the market and an increase in the level of competition, which has seen groups such as JD Sports and Cobra expand. In February Sears announced that it was closing 30 of its worst-performing Olympus outlets. Management has also been changed.

However, analysts are unconvinced that Sears has the ability to resuscitate one of its great disaster areas. John Richard, stores analyst at NatWest Securities, said: "They haven't managed it in the past. But health and fitness is a growth market. The problem is that some of the brands are so strong it is difficult for the retailers to make a margin."

The growth in Sears' sports retailing is still expected to come from out-of-town expansion, where its Sportsworld chain has been a success. Sears is embarking on re-fit programmes at its Adams children's wear chain and Dolcis shoe shops. Next week a pilot Dolcis store opens in Reading, offering a "fast shoe" concept, in which customers are served by staff equipped with telephonist-style head sets who transmit the order to back office staff. The shoes are then delivered down a chute to the counter. Customers can watch MTV on in-store screens while they wait. If successful the concept could be used in all 122 Dolcis branches.

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