After all the gloom surrounding yesterday’s unemployment figures, it was nice to hear some positive news from two big retailers this morning: Asda announced plans to create up to 6,000 new jobs this year as it opens no fewer than 10 new stores, while Halfords said it would create another 1,000 jobs after moving into the car servicing business with the acquisition of Nationwide. Retailers haven’t had a lot to shout about lately, particularly given the miserable weather we’ve had so far this year (B&Q became the latest to blame the snow for a fall in sales during January). So it’s good to see some are still in expansion mode despite the recession…
Let’s take Asda first. It’s been another good year for the UK’s second biggest supermarket chain – ‘a year in which we managed to make fantastic progress,’ CEO Andy Bond schmoozed this lunchtime. Sales growth for the full year came in at 6%, while its market share inched up to 17.1%. It’s not only managed to attract a million extra customers per week, but people are spending more money per shop too. And after a little wobble, all-conquering clothing line George is back at the top of the clothing sales charts.
As a result, Asda is sharing out a bonus pot of £26m between its staff, 18% more than last year (which for the majority will amount to just under £450 each). And as you'd expect, it's planning more of the same in 2010; Bond intends to open 10 new stores and expand 10 existing ones during the year, potentially creating up to 6,000 jobs. And if Asda can avoid a media storm over its new procurement set-up (designed to cut costs for Asda, aka squeeze suppliers on price), you wouldn’t bet against them.
Today’s other good news story came from Halfords, the car accessory and bike retailer: it's just splashed out £72m on a car servicing firm called Nationwide Autocentres, which will now be rebranded as Halfords Autocentres. This gives Halfords an easy way into a sector that tends to be pretty recession-proof – and it’s an obvious fit with its current business. The City clearly loves the idea, judging by the 10% bounce in its share price this morning. And perhaps more significantly, the extra 200 centres it hopes to open by 2015 will create more than 1,000 jobs.
Admittedly Halfords didn’t have much success when it last dipped a toe in this particular market – but these days a lot more of us are having to buy second-hand cars. The trade in dodgy Toyotas should be brisk, if nothing else...
In today's bulletin:
Government £4.3bn in the red last month as tax take plummets
Asda and Halfords deliver good news on jobs
E&J Gallo in the merde over pseudo-pinot
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