McLeod is to join his former Asda boss, Archie Norman, as managing director of struggling Australian grocer Coles. News of his departure came as Halfords posted a slowdown in its like-for-like sales growth at the start of the second half.
Shore Capital analyst John Stevenson said: “Perversely, we believe this is a great opportunity. McLeod is certainly a loss, although Halfords appears to offer a rounded management team to us rather than being dependent on a strategy developed and executed by one man.
“A change in management may well create the impetus for the business to provide stronger growth credentials, such as an aggressive roll-out of the stand-alone bike stores.”
While Halfords searches for a replacement chief executive, finance director Nick Wharton and trading director Paul McClenaghan will act as joint managing directors.
For the 17 weeks since its half-year, Halfords’ like-for-likes rose 2 per cent, against strong comparables in autumn 2006. Total sales climbed 5 per cent. In the 43 weeks to January 25, the 440-store retailer’s like-for-like sales rose 4.1 per cent and total sales increased 7 per cent.
Halfords reported that gross profit was in line with expectations. McLeod said: “We continue to enjoy growth in each of our key sales categories, underlining our strength, destination-store status and market leadership.”
Charles Stanley analyst Sam Hart said: “The performance is towards the lower end of expectations, but is very credible, given the slowing consumer environment and tough comparatives.”
However, Landsbanki’s Paul Deacon warned: “While it seems reasonable to suppose the company’s defensive qualities should stand it in good stead in the face of a weakening consumer, we worry that a maturing sat-nav market and more difficult environment might damage what has been an impressive top-line story.”
McLeod was headhunted for the Coles role by executive search specialist Barracuda. The Miles Partnership will seek his replacement.