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Go Outdoors emerges as bidder for Blacks

Privately-owned specialist retailer Go Outdoors has emerged as a bidder for Blacks, Retail Week has learned.

Go Outdoors, chaired by serial dealmaker John Lovering, is expanding rapidly and it is understood that it is interested in the whole of Blacks, which today reported reduced losses.

A pounce by Go Outdoors would mark a shift in direction for the retailer, which primarily operates on retail parks. Blacks has some such stores but many of its shops are in town centres.

Blacks Leisure has been approached by a number of potential buyers, interested in all or parts of the business.

This morning Blacks said it is making good progress with its recovery plan and posted a reduced interim loss.

The retailer, which owns the Millets chain as well as eponymous stores, said that new shops are performing above expectations and that margins have improved in the autumn/winter season because it is no longer focused on clearing old stock.

Twelve new or rebranded shops opened in the year to date are beating targets and now account for 10% of the group’s total sales

A £1m staff training programme and the launch of a loyalty scheme which has drawn 60,000 members are among other initiatives bearing fruit, said Blacks.

The retailer cut its operating loss to £7.1m in the 26 weeks to August 28, compared to £8.7m in the comparable period last year.

Sales fell 22.6% to £90.6m, partly reflecting the closure of 88 loss-making stores after CVAs were implemented in December 2009.

Like-for-like sales at the core outdoor business fell 6% in the period, which Blacks blamed on difficult trading conditions. In the second half to date, the decline reduced to 3.5%.

Blacks chief executive Neil Gillis said: “Whilst trading conditions have continued to be very challenging, we are pleased with the performance of our new stores and the progress made with initiatives to underpin and protect our position as the leading outdoor retailer in the UK.”

Blacks declined to comment on whether Go Outdoors is among the interested buyers.

Nobody at Go Outdoors was immediately available for comment. This week the retailer reported that profits rose more than threefold to £4.3m in its last financial year. Chief financial officer David Hanney said there was potential for 100 Go Outdoors stores eventually.

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