Michael Murray says it will take years to transform Sports Direct

Mike Ashley’s future son-in-law, who has been tasked with sprucing up Sports Direct’s leisurewear emporia, says it will take four years to transform the brand into the Selfridges of sportswear.

The retail tycoon anointed Michael Murray as head of elevation last year, handing him the reins of a specialist division dedicated to making a success out of the ailing businesses that acquisition-happy but loss-making Sports Direct has bought.

These include House of Fraser, which Sports Direct described as “terminal” when it released delayed and disappointing financial results last month, and “preppy” clothing brand Jack Wills.

Speaking in two newspaper interviews over the weekend, Murray indicated that he will have sweeping powers at Sports Direct, despite the fact that he is not on its board or even its payroll.

“Mike gives me the control to go and change things and that’s what I’m doing,” he told the Financial Times.

He outlined a plan to transform the retailer from a discounter with limited interest in decor or ambience into a more upmarket high street stalwart that also offers shoppers an experience, including through and in-store video gaming partnership with another Ashley acquisition, Game Digital.

“There will be a point when Sports Direct becomes better known for its elevated shops, but it will take a number of years,” said 29-year-old Murray, who is engaged to be married to Ashley’s eldest daughter, Anna.

“It’s a bit like Primark. No one would have been caught dead in Primark 10 years ago but they’ve managed to keep their value proposition and make it cool and credible,” he told the Times.

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He said that it would take about four years to cast off Sports Direct’s pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap model at the current rate of 50 shops a year being refurbished or relocated.

But he admitted that the transformation was not yet happening at the pace that he would like. “It’s not not working, it’s just not going fast enough, they’re two different things,” he said.

Murray said that as well as improving the brands Ashley has hoovered up on an acquisition spree that has had mixed results, his job is also sometimes to act as a “translator” for his outspoken father-in-law.

He said Ashley “likes to make punchy statements and then it’s up to me to figure out what that actually means”.

Murray also called on the government to speed up business rates relief for larger retailers, amid concern that traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are struggling to stay afloat, due to competition with online giants that don’t face the same costs.


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