George MacDonald on JD Sports, Jaeger and good corporate citizenship.

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Great outdoors beckons for JD Sports

JD Sports’ prelims today showed exactly why it was named the Salesforce Retailer of the Year at the Retail Week Awards in March.

An 81% rise in profits was all the more impressive because it came off the back not of any previous underperformance but a consistently strong showing over years.

Most of the attention is rightly on the eponymous business but it was good to see that the outdoor division – comprising fascias such as Blacks and Millets – made an operating profit for the first time.

That provides encouragement that the retail disciplines that have made the core JD business such as a success can now increasingly be applied to camping and walking gear – still a very fragmented market.

Along with eating out, walking is one of the most popular activities in the UK. According to Sport England, 41% of adults walk as a leisure activity – a vast market to go for if JD can get it right.

By the way, did you know that there used to be two outdoor chains called Millets – or, rather, the second was called Milletts.

In 1979, Foster Brothers (remember it?) bought Millets and in 1986 it acquired Milletts and now – thank goodness – they’re all just Millets. Clear?

Can Jaeger recapture some Audrey Hepburn glamour?

The administration of Jaeger, news of which we broke yesterday, is a reminder of how tough life is in apparel retail at present.

Famously worn by Audrey Hepburn, Jaeger was once a brand with fantastic cachet.

Perhaps the name still has enough glamorous associations not entirely to disappear but to live on as an own-brand within another retailer’s stable.

Edinburgh Woollen Mill-owner Philip Day, who took control of Austin Reed in similar circumstances, looks like a leading contender to take control of the Jaeger name.

He and Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley, who has snapped up brands including Agent Provocateur, both seem to be determined to build department store businesses centred around their collections of brands.

Some department stores have had tough time lately but if Ashley and Day, both of whom have made fortunes through their entrepreneurial verve, see a future in the model then who’d bet against them?

Retail’s good citizens

Congrats to John Colley, who has been named chief executive of Hobbycraft, and best wishes to Catriona Marshall who is leaving.

She will be devoting time to supporting a good cause – Transforming Lives, a foundation she has established to help disadvantaged youngsters. “I’ve been unbelievably fortunate in retail, now it’s my giving back time,” she told me

Catriona, a good friend of Retail Week who has helped judge our Awards and supported our events, will no doubt bring to her new work all the energy and enthusiasm she brought to Hobbycraft.

Her support for good causes is, of course, representative of many in retail. The industry often gets a bad press, but where would so many charities be were it not for the support of individuals and companies in the retail sector?

Whether it’s the local causes supported by the Co-op, or nationwide names such as Diabetes UK or the Royal British Legion backed by Tesco and M&S respectively, it’s all testament to the fact that British retailers are in the main good neighbours and good corporate citizens.