Go Outdoors chairman John Lovering has stepped down from the retailer.

The surprise departure comes as the outdoor specialist prepares to sell a 20% stake to private equity firm 3i, according to The Independent.

Serial dealmaker Lovering, former chairman of Debenhams, joined Go Outdoors in August sparking speculation the retailer was eyeing a sale or float.

Founder and managing director John Graham told Retail Week this year that the retailer had rejected a sale but would decide whether to push the button on a float early next year.

Any float would help the 27-store retailer hit its ambitious growth target of expanding to 50 stores by 2012.

As recently as February Graham had said Lovering would help with the process if it decided to float.

He said: “Floating is on our radar. We’ve looked into it and having John on board will help with the process.”

It is unclear why Lovering has decided to stand down.