Blacks Outdoor Retail

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Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd.
Private (Subsidiary)
Industry Outdoors and Camping
Founded 1861 (Greenock)
Headquarters Bury, United Kingdom
Area served
Key people
CEO Lee Bagnall
Products Outdoor, camping, walking, skiing and mountaineering equipment
Number of employees
Parent JD Sports Fashion plc

Blacks Outdoor Retail Ltd. is a British retailer, headquartered in Bury, Greater Manchester, England which owns the British outdoor retailers Blacks, JD Sports and Millets. Blacks is the largest outdoor retailer in the UK with stores nationwide.

The company entered administration in 2012 and is now owned by its sister company JD Sports. Since the acquisition by JD Sports, Blacks head offices have been relocated to JD's head offices in Bury.


In 1931, Blacks of Greenock published the first Good Companions catalogue. In the Second World War, Blacks made tents for the Army and Navy and made fenders for boats on D-Day. During the early part of the war, the workshops in Greenock were destroyed by a parachute mine on 8 May 1941.

A Canadian subsidiary opened in 1958. Throughout the 1960s, it bought smaller companies. Then in 1967, it bought Benjamin Edginton Ltd, a tent maker. In 1984, it joined with Greenfields plc, then became the Black Leisure Group plc in 1985. In 1994, Blacks Camping became Blacks Outdoors.

The Blacks Leisure Group was formed in 1985, which is now defunct as a company. It has doggedly survived financial difficulties in 1986 and 2009. In September 1986 the company and its 280 employees and 44 stores, almost went into receivership. A £3.3 million offer came from the Sears Group who owned Millets, but this transaction was not completed. It received a cash injection from investors to keep it afloat the following month. It bought Miss Sam Holdings, a childrenswear company, in July 1987 for £45 million. At this time it was headed by Bernard Garbacz. In 1989 it moved its operations to Washington.

It bought the Outdoor Group, which included Millets and Free Spirit, in November 1999 for £51 million, having first offered £55 million. At the time Blacks had 42 stores and a 40% share in the Fila UK Ltd sportswear firm; it sold this share to the parent company in July 2000 for £12 million. In May 2002 it sold its sports division, 187 First Sport outlets, to JD Sports for £53.2 million[1] and bought 47 outlets of Famous Army Stores in February 2002. In July 2003 it bought the Just Add Water chain of 10 shops for £4.3 million. On November 2004 it bought 27 Outdoor outlets for £2.6 million from The Scout Association. Until 2006, it engaged in an expansion of its business by opening many new stores, especially on retail parks. This expansion was short-lived.

Financial troubles[edit]

In 2008/9 it made a loss of £6.8 million, which was a pre-tax loss of £14.4 million. Freespirit and O'Neill were not selling well, but the more well known stores were better. In early 2009 it had 12 O'Neill surf shops but later that year Blacks is thought to have entered talks with Ronald De Waal (owner of the O'Neill brand name) to try to arrange a deal with between O'Neill and Logo Group International based in the Netherlands to offload the stores. Sadly, a deal never materialised and the stores faced closure when Sandcity, the company who held the licence to sell and distribute O'Neill in the UK was put into administration. Sandcity had been based in Washington, Tyne and Wear, which itself closed in May 2008, moving to the Northampton headquarters. The first UK based O'Neill store opened in December 1997 in Covent Garden Sandcity went into administration on 23 September 2009. This had to happen when the bank (Lloyds) refused Blacks' offer to convert them into Blacks and Millets stores.[2] The wholesale licence of O'Neill in the UK was handed back to Logo Group International, based in the Netherlands at the same time.

In October 2009 89 stores where shut down as part of a restructuring, after the company went through a CVA which was supported by a huge majority of creditors. Before the closure it had 256 Millets, 116 Blacks and 32 Freespirit. By February 2010 it had 208 Millets, 92 Blacks and 13 Freespirit. The CVA was executed and Blacks exited a number of loss-making stores but not before a number of the stores classed as "loss making" underwent an extensive refurbishment program using around £6m of capital. The most costly of these stores was the Air Land and Sea store at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.[3] After a costing an estimated £3m and branded "the first of many to open in the UK", the store was in operation for less than 12 months and closed as part of a CVA. Of all the stores refurbished, they were originally reported to be trading ahead of the rest of the estate. Several of the newly refurbished stores remained loss-making and were closed when a CVA was agreed. Of the refurbished stores, the newly refurbished blacks store at the ex freespirit site in Northampton was also closed.

On 23 November 2009, it reached an agreement with its creditors — landlords of its stores — which needed 75% backing. This saved the company from liquidation, with a period of great uncertainty from September to November. In the summer of 2009, camping was a popular option for many families who could no longer afford a more expensive holiday abroad though Blacks failed to capitalise on the estimated £1.2billion share of the UK market.

In early 2010, the company received a £26 million takeover offer from Sports Direct, which it fought off. Sports Direct owned around 30% of Blacks' shares. It was at this time that Blacks sold off its Mambo boardwear arm for an estimated £800,000 to New Zealand born Andrew Gerrie (CEO of Lush cosmetics).

Private equity funds, including the owner of rival Cotswold Outdoor, circled Blacks after it confirmed early talks on a possible offer in late October 2010[4]

On 7 December 2011, the group was put up for sale. On 23 December 2011 the directors stated that the company was likely to enter receivership. The company was effectively insolvent and the shares likely to be worthless. Potential buyers would only be interested after an administration process.[5]

As a business, despite identified potential for VAT reclaims of over £1m, Blacks entered a 'pre-pack' administration for only four hours to allow the new owner JD Sports to take the business forward debt free.[6]

Back to Profit 2017 Now part of JD Sports Fashion, Blacks and Millets led by CEO Lee Bagnall returned to profit for the first time in almost ten years. The results announced as part of JD Sports annual results April 11, 2017 was taken as positive by the city as JD shares rose to record levels




Blacks has 69 UK stores, originally specialising in the serious walking and hiking kit. Recently they have diversified to including running clothing and more fashion based lines.

In the 1850s, Thomas Black went to Australia, prospecting for gold. He then went to Spanish Guinea in West Africa, where he worked for the London company Laughland and Brown as an agent, where he traded calico cotton fabric for ivory. The conditions were not good for his health so he returned to Scotland, setting up a sailmaking business in Greenock in 1861. Many ships were made on the Clyde, but by the 1900s, fewer ships were powered by sail so his son Thomas (Junior) changed the business priorities to making tents instead. His father died in 1905 and he took over the company, making many tents for the Army in the First World War. He died in May 1930, and his son, D Crawford Black took over.


Millets, with 92 stores. Includes own brands Eurohike and Peter Storm. Millets was founded in 1893 by Mr J.M. Millet and had two stores in Southampton and Bristol. In 1978, the company moved to Northampton. In 1986, it formed Millets Leisure plc. This became the Outdoor Group in 1996 with 158 stores, which was bought by Blacks Leisure plc in 1999. Millets is not related to Millet, a French manufacturer of outdoor equipment.[8]

Ultimate Outdoors[edit]

A new store format called Ultimate Outdoors was introduced in Preston in July 2014, combining Blacks and Millets ranges with additional cycling, fishing and climbing ranges, as well as an in-store cafe.[citation needed]


On 30 April 2013, Blacks Outdoor were announced as the new shirt sponsor for professional football team Oldham Athletic for the 2013/14 season.[9] On 25 June 2013, Blacks Outdoor were announced as the new shirt sponsor for Morecambe Football Club for the 2013/14 season.[10]


Own Brands[edit]

The company manufactures the following brands for sale in its Blacks and Millets stores:

  • Peter Storm - clothing and footwear.
  • Technicals - (originally withdrawn in 2012, it was relaunched in September 2014)
  • Eurohike - equipment such as rucksacks and tents.
  • Blacks - equipment.

Other Brands[edit]

Since its takeover, JD Sports have introduced a number of new brands to the list of well-established brands. They include:

Withdrawn Brands[edit]

Blacks have withdrawn the following own-brands:

  • Storm Shield - (although withdrawn as a brand in 2011, Peter Storm has used the name for its waterproof system since 2014.)
  • Thomas Black - footwear (withdrawn in 2013)
  • Equator - (withdrawn lifestyle brand)
  • ALS (withdrawn lifestyle brand)
  • Storm Tech (withdrawn end of 2009)
  • Rare Species (withdrawn women's-only brand)
  • High-Point (withdrawn, sold a limited number of equipment lines, notably walking poles and tents)


  1. ^ "Ramblers return to Blacks". BBC News. 27 May 2002. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Administrators called to O'Neill". BBC News. 23 September 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "Air Land and Sea". Bluewater Shopping Centre. 29 April 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Zoe Wood (24 October 2010). "Battered Blacks Leisure stakes its future on a takeover". The Observer. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Simon Bowers (23 December 2011). "Blacks and La Senza limp towards administration". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Blacks Leisure sold for £20m while La Senza finds buyer". BBC News. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  7. ^
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