Cold snap and shrewd management paying off

 
Elizabeth Fournier
THIS time last year, shares in Dixon’s were languishing around the 14p mark, mired in the retail gloom that soon saw its key rival Comet wiped out, swiftly followed by Jessops.

Gains of 10 per cent took them up to 40p yesterday, touching highs not seen for more than four years.

Part of the company’s success is down to luck. Electrical stores are among the few retailers for whom the never-ending winter has been great news. The rain put paid to Britons’ Easter and Bank Holiday plans, but it also drove more bored spenders through Dixons’ doors in search of indoor entertainment.

But chief executive Seb James deserves some credit too. He only got the top job in February last year but has already made his mark, improving store service, revamping online channels and exiting struggling markets. Dixons has outsurvived some rivals, but James knows that being the last available option isn’t enough to keep it afloat in the face of ever increasing competition from online specialists.

Now there’s just one giant albatross left around his neck – the struggling Pixmania brand, an online gadget store focused on recession-hit France whose 2012-13 losses are estimated at around £40m. But it looks like even that might not drag him down for long – yesterday both James and finance chief Humphrey Singer hinted an exit was imminent – even if closure is the only option.

Dixons did well at the end of last year to temper expectations of just how much it might gain from Comet’s demise, giving it the breathing space it needed to let the benefits come through in time for yesterday’s update.

With so much potential value waiting to be freed up in France and southern Europe – and plans clearly in the works to unlock it – this looks like the start of an unusually upbeat retail story that should run and run.