Former Matalan boss Darren Blackhurst has been appointed as the new commerical director at B&Q. Here is Retail Week’s profile of him written in 2011.

Matalan

Career history

May 2011 Matalan chief executive
2007 to 2010 Asda, various roles, latterly chief merchandising officer
1988 to 2007 Tesco, joined as graduate trainee, latterly heading up Tesco Thailand

The former Matalan boss is no stranger to the value proposition, but when he took up the job at Matalan he needed to use his trading skills to take on his former employees - the grocers.

Darren Blackhurst has ruffled a few feathers in his time. Known for being a tough trader, he can be hard on suppliers and on his team.

That sometimes challenging attitude, coupled with his energy and enthusiasm for customers and product, is no doubt one of the characteristics that appealed to the robust Matalan founder John Hargreaves when he chose Blackhurst to become chief executive.

Blackhurst took up his post at the value fashion and homewares retailer last month. The size of the job ahead was shown just last week when Matalan reported a 7.4% dip in EBITDA to £153.6m in its full year to February 26, when sales were broadly level on the previous year at £1.1bn.

Blackhurst - who is carrying out a strategic review and will reveal his findings to the business at the end of summer - says the business is “robust fundamentally” and while the figures are disappointing, it was largely due to the snow in the fourth quarter “which hit all retailers”.

He believes there are “massive opportunities for growth” for Matalan despite the tough climate and “the good value offer is what matters to customers and that will remain our focus”.

With 23 years experience in retail “where value is very important” at Asda and prior to that Tesco, Blackhurst should have the skills to steer value retailer Matalan.

James Hyde, director at headhunter Flint Hyde who placed Blackhurst at Matalan, says his “history in value retail and a low-cost model to get the greatest returns for customers” will be key in his new role. He also says his trading background means he has “an excellent relationship with suppliers”.

Interests

Music, concerts, has a camper van that he takes to the coast to do bodyboarding with his two children, his daughter aged 14 and son aged 17

Blackhurst earned his stripes at Tesco, where he worked for 18 years, including transforming the Thailand business, turning it into a multi-format operation.

The guitar player and music lover then moved to Asda where his job included keeping prices as low as possible and was known to drive fear into the hearts of suppliers.

Former Asda colleague Stuart Machin, who is now store development and operations director at Australian retailer Coles, says Blackhurst’s focus then was on price, value and simplification.

He remembers Blackhurst was “very focused on the pound” and insistent that Asda always had rounded price points. Blackhurst’s view was that the grocer should never run bogofs because “he believed customers then thought you have inflated the normal everyday prices, therefore the product and price message would be diluted”.

Machin says that, while Blackhurst was “challenging”, he got people on side through his “passion for retail and selling”. He jokes that Blackhurst “lived EDLP outside work too as he never bought a round of drinks”.

Blackhurst quit Asda suddenly in May last year when he was overlooked for the top job. He and Andy Clarke - who took up the chief executive’s role - are understood to have clashed and Blackhurst left. He says he decided he did not want to continue working at Asda under new leadership.

Blackhurst may have met his match at Matalan, because Hargreaves is also understood to be famously tough. Another former colleague thinks Blackhurst’s “barrow boy” personality would have appealed to Hargreaves. He says: “Hargreaves has a reputation akin to the equivalent of a football club chairman and Darren is one of only a few who can take someone like that on.”

Blackhurst says Hargreaves is “inspirational”. He says: “Our values are aligned, he’s a great merchant and has created a great business and doesn’t clamour after the limelight.”

Blackhurst, who may also be found bodyboarding if not at work, joins Matalan in a difficult climate. If he can apply his tough attitude with a clear focus on the Matalan customer, he is likely earn his place in Hargreaves’ good books.