Comment: Halfords on a roll despite changes

Halfords: Success despite boardroom upheaval. Picture: PA
Halfords: Success despite boardroom upheaval. Picture: PA
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THE impressive turnaround at retailer Halfords is all the more remarkable given its boardroom upheaval in recent times.

New chief executive Jill McDonald joined from fast-food chain McDonald’s last month, where she was the UK boss, replacing Matt Davies at the cycles-to-car-parts business.

Davies had only taken over in 2012 following the profits warning that led to the departure of his predecessor, David Wild, earlier that year, but he was then lured away to become head of Tesco’s UK arm.

But Davies clearly had a positive, if relatively shortlived, impact on Halfords, which yesterday topped £1 billion of annual sales for the first time, a year ahead of target.

As such, McDonald might be tempted at this juncture to adopt the approach of “if it ain’t punctured, don’t fix it” to her stewardship of the company.

Halfords has refurbished stores, created new products, rejuvenated its cycle offering, and addressed what was previously a struggling Autocentres business.

Same floorspace sales at its cycling division jumped more than 11 per cent, while sales at Autocentres were up more than 5 per cent.

The group has obviously benefited from a much greater green obsession in society generally, helping propel cycling back into fashion. But you have to ride your good luck.

And Halfords has been shrewdly anticipatory in seeing how to take the core operations forward, including its current plans to roll out a chain of standalone cycle shops called Cycle Republic.

The stock market has cottoned on that Halfords now looks a business on the front pedal. The shares are now moving back towards the £5 mark last seen five years ago.

Pettigrew in clarion call for Square Mile

Jim Pettigrew, the president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas), was pushing at an open door with his speech at the Mansion House calling on politicians and business leaders to rally round the success story that is the City of London.

Pettigrew, a City veteran of nearly 30 years, told an audience including the Lord Mayor, Alderman Alan Yarrow, that the financial district was “the most remarkable story for the UK economy since the industrial revolution”.

But he said it had to be protected by various initiatives, including keeping the City at the leading edge through competitive corporate taxes, and not letting over-zealous regulation stifle its entrepreneurial streak.

Pettigrew, whose list of business appointments includes the chairmanship of Clydesdale Bank, due to float on the London stock exchange later this year, said the Square Mile also had to keep at the forefront of new technology in order to maintain its global markets challenge.

He added that it should also not obsess about Europe, but had to reach out to Asia and the US, as well as the emerging capital markets of Africa and South America.

It is a timely and articulate intervention, particularly against the periodic attempts by the EU to undermine London’s financial powerhouse, be it through the financial transaction tax or the bankers’ bonus cap.

The City’s equities, bonds and forex business exceeds the rest of the EU combined, while its forex market is also larger than the US and Japan combined.

It is a major contributor to Britain’s tax coffers, and needs its champions.