Sports retailer to axe more stores

Britain's JD Sports owner John David Group today pledged to close more under-performing stores as it battles to get into shape after the acquisition of First Sport.

Britain's JD Sports owner John David Group today pledged to close more under-performing stores as it battles to get into shape after the acquisition of First Sport.

The cost of axing 15 stores affected half-year results unveiled today but the company, which had 348 outlets at the end of July, said more sites would go with between 15 and 25 outlets set to shut in the second half.

Exceptional costs related to the closure programme pushed half-year losses out to £6.4m (€9.3m), from £5.6m (€8.1m) a year earlier, but John David said the benefits of the exercise would show through in the medium-term.

The group picked up the 209-strong chain of First Sport stores in 2002, but has experienced difficulties integrating the business, which now only trades from 31 sites after most were converted to the JD Sports fascia or closed.

Executive chairman Peter Cowgill, who took the helm earlier this year, said a strategic review had identified a need to accelerate store closures.

He said: “We have had too many under-performing stores since the First Sport acquisition. The biggest change I have made in this area has been to accelerate significantly the pace of closure of these stores.”

The company said it would eventually look for a core base of around 310 stores by the end of the programme, which may take another year to complete. Around 260 of the 348 sites at the end of July were JD Sports-branded.

Mr Cowgill, who was in charge of the company’s finances between 1996 and 2001, also said he had adopted a more aggressive approach to tackling aged stock.

And he said he was looking for improved results from the company’s small number of fashion stores – mainly ATH branded – after making changes to the division’s buying team.

The group added that current trading remained satisfactory since July with like-for-like sales up 7% against weak comparatives a year earlier.

Despite a tough period in the retail sector, JD improved group like-for-like sales by 1.5% in the six month period and saw operating profits before one-off items improve to £2.2m (€3.2m) from losses of £1.5m (€2.2m) last time.

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