June 24, 2010 3:00 am

Comet chain owner fights back with overhaul of stores

Kesa, the owner of the Comet chain, is to fight back against Best Buy's assault on the UK and a resurgent DSG International, with an overhaul of its British stores.

Best Buy Europe, a joint venture between the US electricals group and Carphone Warehouse, has made an aggressive push into the UK market and DSG International, owner of the Currys chain, is retaliating by opening more big stores and revamping its tired estate.

Some City analysts believe Comet will be the loser from the battle.

But Thierry FalquePierrotin, the former PPR executive who joined Kesa as chief executive in October 2008, insisted there was a place for Comet. He said the chain would not be forced into opening bigger stores by the skirmish between Best Buy and DSG, and would continue to concentrate on medium-sized units of between 10,000 and 20,000 sq ft.

"[There is a] big-box fight in the UK. It's a fight between Best Buy and Currys. I'm very confident of the mid-size stores we have," he said.

Kesa plans to refresh the Comet brand this September. It will ditch the black and gold in Comet's logo, introduced five years ago, for new colours it hopes will better appeal to customers. It will also update staff uniforms "to give an image that is more contemporary".

Mr Falque-Pierrotin denied this was a reaction to Best Buy, which makes much of its army of blue-shirted staff. In addition, Comet will increase the number of accessories, from laptop cases to headphones, and high margin small domestic appliances it sells in stores.

About half of Comet's 250 stores have been revamped in the past three-to-five years. Of the remainder, Comet has refurbished eight stores and will complete another 40 before Christmas, followed by a further 40 next year. It will close nine stores, relocate three and open three, which will not be big boxes. It will also boost its online presence, unveiling a new website in September.

At the same time, Kesa will aggressively pursue the strategy of its French chain Darty, such as tenacious price matching and strong customer service, to help it compete more effectively with UK big-box rivals.

He said Darty competed successfully against Media Markt, Europe's biggest consumer electronics chain, which operates big stores.

"We have a player entering the market . . . Best Buy, and the leader Currys, fighting against [it], trying to prevent him coming to the UK market . . . By doing it, they play their role as a leader in the market. We are not a leader," he said. "Let's do our job by implementing the Darty concept. We know it competes very much against big boxes. It has done very well in continental Europe. There is no reason for it not to do well in the UK market."

Mr Falque-Pierrotin denied that Kesa was late to revamp the Comet stores, given that John Browett, the former Tesco executive, now at the helm of DSG, had embarked on a turnround plan two years ago .

He said he had less work to do at Comet, which was reflected in the capital expenditure programme of £130m for the whole group this year, compared with £90m last year. DSG raised £300m from investors last year for its plan, he noted.

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