Company benefits from love of great outdoors

John Graham, MD of GO Outdoors, in tent department of their Sheffield store: Picture by Chris Lawton
John Graham, MD of GO Outdoors, in tent department of their Sheffield store: Picture by Chris Lawton
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Outdoor equipment retailer GO Outdoors boosted its turnover by 57 per cent last year as it continued its rapid expansion across the UK.

The Sheffield-based company said opening nine new superstores in 2010 helped to increase the figure from £75.4m to £114.9m, whilst like-for-like sales across its entire portfolio rose by 10.6 per cent.

GO Outdoors, which has 27 superstores across the UK, is planning to open a further 10 stores, including one in York, this year with the aim of having 50 in the portfolio by 2012.

Chief executive John Graham said: “We are bucking the trend in retail and are continuing to grow both in terms of sales and number of stores.

“Our strength lies in the fact we are able to cater for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts across a number of outdoor activities. We offer the most comprehensive range of branded products as well as our own-labels so we are able to give a variety of choice for all budgets.”

The company employs 1,300 staff, including 103 at its Sheffield headquarters and 150 across its three Yorkshire stores in Wakefield, Pudsey and Sheffield. The number is growing and the firm aims to create a total of 500 new jobs across the UK in new stores over the next 12 months.

“We learned a lot last year and got much better at opening stores,” Mr Graham said. “The team are better practised and every time we open a new one we learn how to do it better and more efficiently.”

Online sales grew by 45 per cent thanks to the increasing number of stores and a television advertising campaign, which ran for 44 out of 52 weeks. GO Outdoors plans to unveil a new website this year.

Mr Graham said: “As we open more stores we are advertising in new regions to new customers who buy online as well as shop in the stores. Every television advert advertises our website so we were always going to see increased traffic this year.”

He added: “We have projects ongoing to really improve our website and the services it provides this year. The web is going to become so much more important in the future so we need a new website to deal with that.”

Even the bad weather in December didn’t affect spending at the company’s stores as the like-for-like takings for the five weeks ending December 24 were up by 20.2 per cent.

“Snow was good for us,” said Mr Graham. “If you are an outdoor enthusiast or want to go sledging or walking with the children we have the equipment you need.

“In addition, for people walking to work in the snow, their normal footwear was inadequate so people looked for well-known brands that make clothing and shoes which can cope with the weather.”

GO Outdoors stocks more than 200 brands. Its core areas are walking and camping products but in the last two years it has also introduced cycling, horse riding, running and fishing, which have all expanded over the last 12 months.

“We have grown different areas and we want to get better at these things before we enter new ones,” said Mr Graham. “We don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none.”

In 2009 the company grew by 80 per cent to a £75.4m turnover. Within the next five years, Mr Graham aims to have 100 stores in his portfolio.

GO Outdoors is cashing in on the growing number of Britons who are taking country holidays close to home.

“Interest rates haven’t made it easy for people to go abroad,” said Mr Graham. “We have seen good sales as a result and that is likely to continue.”

The expansion began in earnest in 2008 when the company, which already had nine stores, secured an £18m banking deal. Due to the fall in property prices, buildings the company couldn’t previously afford were coming into its price range and expansion took off.

The company was founded as CCC more than 40 years ago with a single store in Sheffield. Mr Graham began working at CCC and within weeks he had agreed to buy the business with Mr Caplan, chairman of the company.

The pair signed the deal for the buy-in management buyout in 1998.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post last year, Mr Graham said: “I wanted a business that would have everything for everybody, in every category, from inexpensive entry level to something you’d buy for the Himalayas.”

He insists he wants to grow the business himself rather than sell it but admits that if someone offered him the right amount he would consider it.

He plans to expand the GO Outdoors nationwide but, in Yorkshire, stores in York and Hull are on the agenda as well as a second store in Leeds to add to the one in Pudsey. He also wants to relocate the Sheffield store to a bigger site.

“An important part of our formula is that we have these out-of-town stand-alone sites with free parking. You won’t find us next door to other retailers,” he said. “Customers want to find their favourite brands. As we grow, I want to entice more of people’s favourite brands to come and work with us.”