In a Retail Week video exclusive Sports Direct boss Dave Forsey talks about the need for it to do a better PR job and its future strategy.

Sports Direct boss Dave Forsey has pledged to more effectively counter the retailer’s critics so that its business success and appeal as an employer are not overshadowed by controversy.

Speaking exclusively to Retail Week, Forsey admitted that not enough had been done to address rows such as zero-hours contracts and warehouse working conditions at Sports Direct, where founder Mike Ashley still wields significant power as executive deputy chairman.

“We need to do a better job, myself included, in making sure our story comes across”

Dave Forsey, Sports Direct

Some investors and suppliers, as well as campaigners, are among those that have expressed concern at aspects of how Sports Direct does business and Forsey signalled he aims to address the company’s reputation.

He said: “The negative media coverage is something we could have done better. We could have spent more time and got our side of the story across, but we are concentrating on the business.

“We do take our responsibilities very seriously. We need to do a better job, myself included, in making sure our story comes across.”

He added: “It’s as much for the staff as anyone, to make sure they feel as proud as I do being their chief executive. I want them to feel proud working for Sports Direct.”

Defence of zero-hours contracts

Forsey defended Sports Direct’s use of zero-hours contracts and said their flexibility was valued by many. He maintained: “Contrary to what is reported it does work well for what is the vast majority of our casual staff, as well as for the company.” However, the use of such contracts will be kept “under review”.

Forsey said that Ashley would not be abandoning his low media profile as part of any efforts to improve Sports Direct’s image.

“He’s the best in the business at doing what he does and what he loves doing, and that’s a massive asset to us,” Forsey said. He did not believe that more public involvement by Ashley “would help the current negative PR”.

Forsey made his comments as part of a wide-ranging interview on plans for the business.

New bigger format focus

He said the areas of focus for the retailer, which has 450 stores, included the roll-out of larger shops adopting the model deployed in places such as London’s Oxford Street, and further building relationships with big brands.

One of the latest such stores, in Leeds, measures 50,000 sq ft over four floors and was previously a branch of Primark.

Forsey said the format would help to enhance links with top sportswear companies. “It gives the brands a chance to take more space, the likes of Nike and Adidas, and to give a wider choice and proposition to the consumer.”

Another big opportunity is international growth. Forsey said: “We have said we want to be in all EU countries and we’re in 20 at the moment. Some of them we only have a handful of stores so the real question is, where we’re currently active, do we do something to take us to another level?”

Reflecting on his 31 years at Sports Direct, having joined two years after it was formed, Forsey said he was proud of what has been created. He said: “It’s been a hell of an experience that we’ve built something as big and successful as Sports Direct.”

He described Ashley as “without doubt one of the best retailers of our generation”.

Forsey has come under the spotlight after facing criminal charges over the handling of redundancies relating to the administration of the USC fashion chain.

He is unable to talk about the case while it is in progress but has pleaded not guilty to the charges.