Martin Flanagan: Debenhams is still a work in progress

Debenhams' new boss could face stormy conditions on the high street. Picture: Stephen JB Kelly/PA Wire
Debenhams' new boss could face stormy conditions on the high street. Picture: Stephen JB Kelly/PA Wire
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A rude spring/early summer awakening has come from the previous six months of unaccustomed golden slumber for Debenhams.

A chilly spring that hit the key womenswear arm has seen like-for-like sales excluding currency movements slide 1.6 per cent at the department store group in its third trading quarter. The City had invested quite a bit of hope in the 2.4 per cent same-floorspace sales rise at Debenhams in the previous six months, but that now looks to have been something of a false dawn.

READ MORE: Debenhams suffers sales reverse as cold spring hits womenswear

It is not the swansong that outgoing Debenhams chief executive Michael Sharp, who leaves on Friday after five years, would have wished.

And it suggests new boss Sergio Bucher, to be parachuted in from Amazon next autumn, is not going to inherit a sleek retailer ship sailing on smooth water.

Margins are under pressure at the business has had to enter the price-discounting high street war, with cost and stock management virtually its only weapon to counter the negative effect.

Weather is a maverick factor for the high street. But, even without its depressant effect this time, the underlying direction of travel at Debenhams seems to be to reduce its reliance on clothing and drive mobile sales.

Online sales were up 7 per cent in Q3, with mobile chipping in half of all internet orders in the UK, while click-and-collect was up a shade under 20 per cent year-on-year.

Not for the first time in recent years, the retailer continues to look like a work in progress rather than the finished article. There is a core resilience, but little to suggest anything immensely innovative or game-changing.

Whoo-whoo, clank

Hornby has hit the buffers again. Losses at the troubled model railway firm have leapt to £13.5 million from about £200,000 in 2015.

Strategic reviews and turnaround plans go together like bacon and eggs, but so far we have only got a lumpy omelette at Hornby. The group has also suffered major disruption from new computer and stock management systems, while European trading has affected by problems with suppliers in China.

In terms of revival, Hornby looks a stopping train rather than inter-city express.