Ian McLeod must have had a tough time choosing between working in Redditch and in Melbourne.
But as the Halfords boss packs his shorts and shades to take on one of the biggest turnaround jobs in world retail, he leaves behind a resilient business.
Halfords isn’t sexy and McLeod was one of the lower profile chief executives in the industry. But it is one of the most consistent performers in the retail sector and is a lesson in what every specialist retailer should be, with a trusted brand, product authority and quality service.
Product trends have been helpful and the one-off boost from sat-nav systems becoming a must-have accessory will come to an end soon. But the sat-nav boom came on the back of the child seat legislation, which lifted sales the previous year and even if a new must-have doesn’t come along, many of Halfords’ products are essentials for motorists to keep their cars on the road and no other retailer has the same authority in this field.
Another attraction is that Halfords still has plenty to go for. Cycling is a huge growth market and while it has been very cautious with the roll-out of its Bikehut fascia, with only four stores to date, this is an area where there is big potential for expansion. The fledgling international business has done well too, but the company has barely scratched the surface.
McLeod’s departure shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on Halfords. Aside from the obvious attractions of Australia, Coles is a massive job and also reunites him with his former boss at Asda, Archie Norman. But with the team McLeod has built and the legacy he leaves, there seems little chance of the wheels coming off at Halfords.
It’s up to the consumer
The fuss about chickens this week has shown once again that the supermarkets just can’t win. Ethically produced product is too expensive, traditionally produced product is too cheap.
There have been huge advances in animal welfare over recent years and no one would condone conditions that are clearly cruel. But ultimately the consumer has to decide how they want their food produced and that is a decision that will depend on their own individual ethics – and the depth of their pockets. All retailers can do is give them the choice to allow them to make that decision.