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JD’s Cowgill unfazed by Sports Direct strategy

JD Sports Fashion executive chairman Peter Cowgill has said he is unfazed by Sports Direct’s bid to move more upmarket.

Peter Cowgill

Peter Cowgill

Mike Ashley, founder of rival Sports Direct, said last week that he will use bigger stores to better showcase brands’ collections and will expand the footprint of premium multi-brand chain Flannels.

But Cowgill remained confident in his own firm’s offer: “JD has become the home of choice for the majority of international brands in our sector because we portray those brands in the right environment.”

“There is some inevitability that [Sports Direct] could mimic some of what we do but that could be quite dangerous because we target different markets,” he said. “We have been successful in winning the respect of the brands we work with and we want to stay that way.

“We’ve done well at attracting brands that wouldn’t have considered the sportswear market and generally we’ve been flattered by the brands’ interest in JD.”

He underlined that JD Sports Fashion looks at all competitors in the leisurewear market: “We’re definitely not just looking at Sports Direct”.

Cowgill was speaking to Drapers after JD Sports revealed pre-tax profits jumped 73% to £77.4m in the 26 weeks ended 30 July.

He said he believes the firm’s growth is a reflection of the strong athleisure trend that has developed over the past few years, which he sees no sign of abating: “It’s a cultural issue and a major shift to people dressing more casually.”

He also said he is “very pleased” with the performance of the group’s multi-brand fascias such as Scotts and Tessuti, both in terms of their financial performance and their brand relationships. He said the firm may open more stores under these fascias, but at a modest rate.

Last month, Drapers reported that premium menswear mini-chain Aspecto was fully owned by JD Sports after it was originally acquired by Tessuti buying director Michael Ashcroft and his brother-in-law, Tessuti founder and minority shareholder David Light, in August last year. JD Sports bought a 40% stake of Tessuti in 2011.

When asked about the future of Aspecto, Cowgill said: “We have to evaluate all of the fascias like Aspecto to see if we consolidate them under one banner. Nothing has been decided as yet.”

The firm ended the first half with a net cash balance in excess of £200mm but Cowgill insisted the firm is not actively looking for acquisitions. “They tend to be opportunity driven and we evaluate each one as it comes.”

He was sanguine about the impact of Brexit on consumer confidence, adding: “There was a bit of a flat period straight after, which seems to have been restored now. It will be interesting when it comes to Christmas but we are performing strongly – our results speak from themselves.”




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