The Player: Joe Riordon, MD of Comet Group

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The Independent Online
PERSONAL DETAILS: Age 53. Lives in Surrey. Drives a Lexus. Brought up in Ontario, Canada. Hobbies include golf, working out in the gym, DIY. Pay undisclosed.

CHALLENGE: To improve on a lacklustre trading performance. In 1998, Comet reported a 0.6 per cent drop, and sales and profits were flat at pounds 33.4m. But market share increased from 11.7 per cent to 12.3 per cent. Comet is Britain's second biggest electrical retailer but used to be market leader in volume and size."I see no reason why Comet can't re-occupy that space," says Mr Riordon. "The biggest challenge for the business is to differentiate ourselves from the competition."

He also wants Comet to be the number one choice for customers when they think of an electrical retailer that consistently delivers in terms of range, excitement, merchandise, service and aftercare.

CORPORATE BACKGROUND: Joe Riordon joined Comet in June 1998 from sister company B&Q where he was commercial director for merchandising, supply and buying for all DIY concepts. His first job at B&Q was to spearhead its warehouse stores. He moved to the UK from Canada, for Kingfisher, in 1994. Previous employers include Wal-Mart, Boots, FW Woolworth and Aitkenhead's Home Improvement Warehouse.

STRATEGY: Focus firmly on the customer in terms of product availability, more upmarket ranges, a fun, informative shopping environment, maintaining the lowest prices in the local market and good aftercare. There is heavy emphasis on technology, Comet aiming to match specialist retailers in stereo systems and digital mobile phones.

A store opens in Paisley, Scotland, this month incorporating several new concepts, including a move from commission-only staff to a team bonus structure.

Three "destination stores" open this year with scope for more than 50 more in cities and other markets. Concepts include putting camcorders on open display for customers to test. The store is segregated into well- defined areas: vision, cooking and home laundry.

Mr Riordon says that the stores reflect the firm's aim of providing customers with everything they need to complete a project rather than just selling a single item. Comet also plans to return to the high street. It was one of the first groups to embrace out-of-town retailing. It closed its high street outlets nearly 10 years ago.

MANAGEMENT STYLE: Mr Riordon describes himself as "focused and goal-oriented". He believes in empowering people, to gain a highly motivated staff.

MOST ADMIRES IN BUSINESS: US retail group Wal-Mart for its consistent retail proposition: "You have to respect them for their focus." He notes that Sam Walton, founder of the chain, recognised the value of being customer- focused long before it became the norm in retailing.Mr Riordon also mentions Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy, chief executive of Kingfisher, as someone he respects for his tenacity and strategic thinking.

CITY VERDICT: Comet faces a tough task against Currys, the market leading electrical retailer owned by Dixons. Currys has 20 per cent of the UK electrical market. Independents with less than 1 per cent each account for half.

Comet has been trailing Currys in innovation and product presentation. Currys' stronger buying power also translates into better shop prices.

"I cannot see Comet catching them up," says an analyst.

Kingfisher and Dixons are expected to benefit over 10 years from the boom in innovations such as digital videodisc players and greater sales of mobile phones and personal computers.

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