Blacks like-for-likes plummeted 7.2% in its first half as new boss Julia Reynolds unveils her turnaround strategy.

Sales fell to £81.1m in the 26 weeks to August 27 and like-for-likes have plunged by 14.2% since the year end in what the retailer said is “an extremely challenging period for the business and UK retail.” Losses before tax widened to £16m from £7.2m last year.

New chief executive Julia Reynolds, who started in the role at the beginning of August, said there is “clear turnaround potential” for the outdoor specialist.

She said: “ While the strategic planning process is nearing completion, it is already apparent that there are multiple opportunities to bring fresh retail ideas and disciplines to the business and more properly exploit its market leadership position, brand heritage and unparalleled brand recognition in the outdoor retail space.”

Reynolds’ focus is to refurbish the existing store estate and differentiate Blacks and Millets with the latter having a greater focus on value and a higher level of own-brand merchandise.

The group has strengthened its buying and merchandising team, hiring former Burton merchandising director Andrew Austin. Austin will join former Primark buying and merchandising director and product expert Julian Kilmartin who has been drafted in as a consultant to advise on clothing.

Another major focus for Reynolds is stock management. The retailer has started clearing excess stock which has been reduced by 27.6% to £28.5m in the first half.

The outdoor retailer has reduced its stock intake levels. Reynolds said that the group had been holding too much stock and has been slow to identify and clear slow-moving and end-of-season lines

Gross margin has been eroded from 48.8% to 43.7% in the first half which the retailer said reflected the tough consumer environment and clearance of excess stock.

The retailer is also developing a “best in class” multichannel offer as part of its revival plan.

Blacks is looking to refinance to fund its turnaround plan.

Former Selfridges boss Peter Williams, who has been acting as interim executive chairman since David Berstein stood down from the role, has been appointed to the role permanently.

Williams said: “Under new leadership and with a fresh strategy and significantly enhanced retail expertise, there is a real opportunity with the right funding structure for the business to re-establish its forward momentum.”