Like so many retailers, JJB is struggling to draw the crowds. But it has added to its own woes with diversions such as a push into fashion through its lifestyle division – which is being put into the hands of administrators – and the clumsy management of shares by now-suspended chief executive Chris Ronnie. For reasons general to business and particular to JJB, any chance of revival lies with the top team – recently promoted executive chairman Sir David Jones and executive director Peter Williams.
The pair have so far proved a formidable combination. The indomitable Jones of course has coached more than one ailing retailer – most notably Next in the early 1990s – back to championship form. Williams, briefly Selfridges chief executive before the department store group succumbed to the private equity dollar, did a good job of sorting out Alpha Airports and will be keen to show his mettle once again at JJB.
Since assuming their roles, Jones and Williams have rapidly got to grips with JJB’s plethora of problems, whether by acting decisively on the lifestyle arm or untangling the ownership structure. Talks are ongoing about a sale of fitness clubs and the backing of the banks secured – even if tentatively.
Whether their reign turns out to be Scolari-style sojourn or a return to the glory days à la Mourinho remains unclear, but in tough times and tough cases, management is all. If anybody can save JJB, surely it’s these two.
Fashion must do sterling job
Sterling’s weakness continues to take a toll on big-name fashion groups. Next slid on Monday on fears that steep price rises may be necessary, while Marks & Spencer was reported to be renegotiating supplier terms.
Smart hedging aside, retailers can do nothing about global exchange rates. The challenge will be to net consumer spend by carrying winning product and well-structured offers.
Once again, as a global tempest buffets the stores sector, it will be great management that protects investor value – but how do you quantify that in a share price?
George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week