The retail veteran will be able to call on decades of experience as he takes on his latest challenge at Floors-2-Go.
Jim Hodkinson’s career has taken him from the worlds of fashion and furniture to garden centres and video shops, but it is home improvement that really seems to motivate him.
With 25 years under his belt at the UK’s largest DIY retailer B&Q, where he rose to chief executive and chairman, he is now back to his old stomping ground with his appointment as chairman of floorings retailer Floors-2-Go, as revealed by Retail Week last week.
Hodkinson is well regarded in the DIY world. When he left B&Q owner Kingfisher after overseeing its international business, he landed a job in Atlanta working for the world’s largest home improvement chain Home Depot.
However, just a month later, he was back in the Kingfisher fold after boss Sir Geoff Mulcahy had personally flown to Atlanta to ask him to return to B&Q as it had “got into a lot of mess” after Hodkinson had left to work in the international arm, and gone to the US. “I’d only been there two weeks, and Geoff came over to drag me back,” recalls Hodkinson. “It annoyed them [Home Depot] a bit.”
Hodkinson then led a year-long turnaround of B&Q, which he described as “pretty difficult”. He adds: “The stores were in a mess. We had to bring some stability back to the business.”
But these are the kind of challenges Hodkinson relishes. The 66-year-old has been in retail since he was 18, when he responded to a job advert for a trainee at Woolworths, which he says sounded “quite interesting”. So interesting, in fact, that he carved out a lifelong career in the industry. “I like the immediacy of it all. There’s never a day that’s the same. It’s an exciting industry to be in.”
But it was B&Q where he really earned his stripes. He joined the retailer to open its fourth store, and eventually rose to chief executive before opening its first Asian shop in Taiwan, as well as rolling out the shed format that DIY retailers have become synonymous with in the UK.
“We went from B&Q supercentres to warehouses,” explains Hodkinson. “Everyone in the industry thought I was mad. I probably was. But I felt that was the way forward. And today the concept speaks for itself.”
And he did all this while running another retailer, his own 50-store video chain, Superflicks, which apparently irked boss Mulcahy. But Hodkinson’s defence was that Superflicks was his “Saturday job”.
Some Saturday job. Not only was he mulling a float 21 years ago this week, but he ended up successfully selling Superflicks to Cityvision, which would eventually become Blockbuster.
Hodkinson says he likes to lead a busy life. “It’s no good just sitting at home. Some people like to go off on holiday all the time. That’s not for me.”
After decades in DIY retailing, he had a brief flirtation with the fashion world when he went to run New Look. How did Hodkinson take to the world of fashionistas after becoming so used to the rough-and-ready world of home improvement? “Fine,” he says, but concedes it was “strange”.
After successfully floating the company, he left 18 months later amid controversial circumstances, and decided to ‘go plural’ - taking on a number of roles, including chairman of Furniture Village. He says he enjoys this way of working: “There are certain things you can bring from one business to another. I like the challenge.”
And Hodkinson, who has seen through four recessions, believes anyone operating in retail has to like a challenge. “Retail is not for the faint-hearted, especially in times like these. You have to be aggressive and make sure you’re up to the fight. But you have to be optimistic and lead from the front.”
He believes retail has changed in the last few decades, with customers becoming more savvy and deal-hungry. “But there have always been challenges in retail,” he points out.
And besides, it’s not all hard work. “Retail is good fun. Everybody enjoys it. It’s quite a small industry, so it’s great to meet up with people at functions.”
As well as being a hard working and sociable person, Hodkinson describes himself as “down to earth” and a good listener. “I hope I’m a fair person who encourages others to do well,” he says.
Qualities which, along with his home improvement knowledge, he will no doubt call upon at Floors-2-Go.
2005 to 2008Wyevale Garden Centres, chairman
1998 to 2000 New Look, chief executive
1972 to 1994 Kingfisher, latterly chairman and chief executive
1962 to 1971 Woolworths, latterly trainee manager
Furniture Village, chairman
Massmart (South Africa ), non executive
Ultimate Products, chairman
Rose HoldCo, non executive