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Two weeks in retail - 10th April

With a sudden reverse back into the more normal Spring showers following the long Easter weekend and the unseasonably hot weather that preceded it, retailers will be analysing their sales over the next few days to see how they have fared.

Ahead of the weekend shopper’s favourite John Lewis had already revealed a 2.4% rise in sales for the week following warmer weather and a price match promotion the retailer ran over the period with fashion performing particularly well.

At its sister chain Waitrose it said barbecue meats soared 270% as Brits welcomed the warm weather by celebrating outside.

On the UK’s high streets retailers were busy digesting the news that the Government had pledged nearly £13 million in investment to help support and revive Britain’s high streets by accepting most of the recommendations made by Mary Portas earlier this year although it stopped short of some of Portas’ more extreme suggestions.

The money includes £10 million from Government which forms a High Street Innovation Fund while local councils and landlords will be asked to help raise a further £30m of cash to help reverse vacancy rates on the high street and support new business start-ups.

A £1million Future High Street X Fund is available to local authorities who come up with best ways of revitalising their own high streets. The deadline for local authorities to put themselves forward as a Portas Pilot passed last month.

Fenn Wright Manson, which fell into administration earlier this year was saved in the last fortnight, bought by Matalan founder John Hargreaves’ daughter Maxine Hargreaves-Adams.

And there was also some good news for Game too after OpCapita, which last year also bought Comet, bought Game’s 333 remaining stores from administration saving 3,200 jobs and pledging to keep the name on the high street.The specialist retailer had faced much pressure from the supermarkets encroaching on its territory.

Of the supermarkets Tesco was also in the news when it was revealed the retailer was relaunching its Tesco Value range as Tesco Everyday – a range of better quality, better packaged products but still selling at the same prices as the previous line which originally launched in 1993.

The continued focus on competitive pricing remains important.Last week the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index for March showed that overall shop price inflation rose to 1.5% in March, up from 1.2% the previous month while food inflation rose from 4.2% to 5.4% in March. BRC Director General Stephen Robertson blamed the cost of oil and therefore rises in transport and manufacturing costs for increasing food inflation.

Proving that no matter how tough the market true retailers will always look for opportunities came the news that DFS founder Lord Kirkham, who sold his furniture business two years ago, was revealed to be planning more than 100 outlets for a new fish and chip restaurant business he has invested in. The Whitby’s chain will aim for at least 80 stores within four years according to Lord Kirkham.

But at the other end of the scale in the sports sector JJB Sports hit the headlines this past fortnight after major change. It was revealed that US giant Dick’s Sporting Goods was to invest £20m in new shares and convertible loan notes while investment firms IAML, Harris Associates, Crystal Amber and BMGFT - the firm’s four largest shareholders – had invested an additional £10m into the company.

The news came as the retailer revealed sales down 21.7% for its January year end largely resulting from store closures the retailer made following its second CVA last year. Meanwhile it was also revealed that the retailer’s former boss Chris Ronnie was being charged with three Fraud Act offences and two money laundering offences from his position at the head of JJB Sports in 2008.

Retail certainly is a mixed business as this last fortnight has showed more than most. Tomorrow’s launch of the BRC-KPMG Sales Monitor is also likely to show the effect the past month has had on shopper’s behaviour patterns in a continually tough market.

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