Halfords sales pumped up by customer service initiative as Jill McDonald departs for M&S

Oliver Gill
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Halfords boss Jill McDonald previously ran the UK arm of McDonald's restaurants

Marks and Spencer’s great hope Jill McDonald has impressed in her outgoing role at Halfords after operational changes paid dividends.

Full-year revenue grew by 7.2 per cent to £1.1bn, the firm announced today. But earnings were dented by a weakened pound, falling 5.1 per cent to £109m.

Under McDonald's stewardship Halfords has zeroed in on customer service through a strategy called "Moving up a gear". The soon-to-be M&S exec said Halfords had made "great progress" in this regard.

Read more: M&S appoints Halfords' chief to take on embattled clothing arm

Nicholas Hyett, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Jill McDonald has grasped what many UK retailers have failed to. In order for bricks and mortar retailers to compete with cheaper online rivals they have to offer something digital rivals can’t – face-to-face, hands on service and expertise.

"The ‘Moving up a gear’ strategy is primarily about up-skilling the Halfords workforce so that they can deliver that service, and rewarding them appropriately so they don’t disappear with their new found skills. Halfords is even looking to a steal couple of tricks from its online rivals."

It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off, and were it not for the fall in sterling, would have delivered results this year.

At the start of May, McDonald announced she was leaving Halfords to help revive M&S' clothing, home and beauty operations.

Sales in the clothing and home division have improved of late, but M&S has said more work needed to be done.

Read more: Halfords pumps up shares with special reward

Hyett said: "It’s taken a long time for Halfords to get its act together and we just hope that the group doesn't lose its way again once Jill McDonald has left for pastures new.”

Halfords chairman Dennis Millard said: “We are grateful for the positive contribution Jill has made across the business and she will leave Halfords with a strong team in place and a clear direction to drive future growth.

"Our priorities remain unchanged, including consolidating our service and services credentials, continuing to invest in our colleagues, and further investment in our shops and online platforms.”

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