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New Argos boss John Walden warns he could close 'unusual' shops

The new head of Argos, John Walden, admits that he thought the shops "unusual" when he visited them for the first time four months ago.

As well as warning that he may have to close down some of the 700 shops, he also indicated that the stores needed a radical overhaul to make them more appealing for customers.

Just four days into the job, Mr Walden, an American who has never worked in the UK, said he realised the challenge of turning around the business was very large and some shops could be axed. "I will look hard at the store portfolio," he said.

His willingness to close some shops is in sharp contrast to Terry Duddy, the chief executive of parent company Home Retail Group, who has been running the Argos business on a temporary basis for much of the past year.

Mr Duddy has always insisted that all the stores make money and closing them half-way through their leases would be very expensive.

Argos has been hit by a drastic fall in sales, amid competition from the internet and its customers cutting back.

Mr Walden said: "It does seem crazy to close our stores if they are making money, but we need to have confidence they have a future role to play in a multi-channel business."

He also indicated that the shops, famed for their arcane system that forces customers to fill in a chit and queue for the product, needed an overhaul.

"My first reaction was that it was unusual," said Mr Walden, who stepped inside his first Argos just four months ago.

"But it was pleasant to see so many customers milling around, browsing the catalogues. There was a lot of activity. But I see opportunities to make the customer experience better," he added.

He said that shops, which traditionally display no more than one or two items of stock, needed to become better at showing off its wares.

"One thing that did strike me is the merchandising."

Analysts were sceptical about Mr Walden's appointment, when it was announced at the end of last month, with most saying they had never heard of him.

He was most recently the chief executive of Activeion Clean Technologies, the maker of renewable technologies.

But before that he spent a year as chief customer officer at Sears after eight years at Best Buy, where he ran the electrical retailer's internet operation.

Argos was declared one of the weakest retail performers over Christmas. Like-for-like sales fell 8.8pc in the 18 weeks to December 31.

Source : Harry Wallop – The Guardian

24 February 2012
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