It’s a sign of just how jittery owners have become in the current retail climate that Evans Cycles chief executive Andy King was given just 17 months to breathe new life into the struggling business.
No doubt desperate to avoid a similar fate to Toys R Us and Maplin, ECI Partners pulled the trigger this week leaving the retailer looking for its third chief executive in the space of two years.
Former Dobbies Garden Centres boss, King, arrived at Evans Cycles in late 2016 promising to make the business more customer focused, but leaves having reportedly failed to meet ECI’s business growth targets.
The identity of his interim replacement tells you much about the level of surgery the owner believes the business requires. Alan Fort is a restructuring expert favoured by the banks as a man to make going concerns out of troubled businesses (he introduces himself on his LinkedIn profile as a “proven leader who brings confidence, clarity and pace to change situations especially in distress”).
A journey through his CV paints Fort as a man who goes into a business operates immediately and then moves on. Since 2000 he has been parachuted into Courts, Jessops and Dreams, in each case restructuring the business before they were placed into administration. The Courts brand, of course, didn’t survive but Jessops and Dreams are now on a stable footing under new ownership. Another turnaround story, Clintons, has also been a past recipient of Fort’s programme of intensive care.
Restructuring experts can be divisive figures. They are sometimes referred to as the undertakers of the retail world with store-level employees often suffering the greatest pain from their hard-nosed decisions. Certainly, Fort’s transient career suggests he is not a man for long-term strategic planning, but where a business requires a short-term fix his credentials are clear to see.
That said, Fort is clearly a capable retailer in his own right. A recent three-year tenure as chief executive of American Golf saw the business return to profit as Fort focused on improving its customer service and reducing discounts. He is said to be a very hands-on manager who is good at giving direction and working within a team.
For how long his services will be required at Evans Cycles remains to be seen but the likelihood is that a permanent successor will inherit a business with the major surgery already performed. The rehabilitation, on the other hand, will be up to them.