NEW Beales boss Michael Hitchcock insists on being on first name terms with every member of his staff.
Less than a fortnight after taking over from outgoing chief executive Tony Brown, he said: “I'm Michael; not Mr Hitchcock or the CEO. I am just the figurehead; I'm not on an ego trip, but I do want to make a difference.
“It's a really exciting challenge, but very much a team effort. I believe we have a good team who can take the business forward. We can't guarantee success but I'm very positive about Beales' future.”
His appointment comes after Beales closed its Wallisdown warehouse, refinanced its debt for the next three years and recorded a pre-tax loss of £5.8million for the year ended November 3, 2012. Christmas sales were down 1.6 per cent but Beale PLC still retains in excess of £9.5m in assets.
The 48-year-old accountant, who has spent most of his working life in the retail trade, said: “I prefer to look forward and concentrate on the opportunities that Beales presents. I'm an absolute optimist. Securing repeat business and good customer service is the core of everything.”
The father-of-three, who was appointed Beales interim finance director in May last year, has “four women in my life”; his wife Fiona, a children's speech and language therapist, and three daughters.
Reflecting on turbulent times on the High Street, he said: “Online sales are not going to go away but they will plateau. You can either lie back and take it or take advantage of the situation. We have ideas and there are things we will do differently.”
With 33 locations and a workforce of around 2,500, the Bournemouth-based department store chain has recently shed jobs and there are no guarantees that more staff won't go. The CEO said: “The business is set up for success but there are a lot of economic factors that we can't control.
“We do not have the time or energy to carry people; there are three million unemployed people who would love to get a ticket to board the Beales bus. I can't say how long I will be here but Beales future in Bournemouth is secure. We want to bring the theatre back to retail; department stores provide the perfect stage.”
Trading director Tony Richards is a vital part of Michael's team.
He said: “We want to do what we do very well, in the most profitable way. We have streamlined the business; there are positive signs and I can see green shoots. Our first focus is on our stores and getting them right; only a tiny proportion of our business is online.
“Improvements are being carried out and changing rooms are receiving a makeover. We want our customers to notice a difference.”