The heat is on outdoor retailer Blacks Leisure after it plunged into the red.

High temperatures and dry weather are blamed for the group’s reported pre-tax loss of £13.8m for the year ended 3 March 2007.  This compares with a profit of £21.4m the previous year.

Retail sales were down 2.7% in what the chairman David Bernstein described as ‘a difficult year’. Blacks is closing 45 stores, mainly under the Millets brand, which will cost the company almost £14m. The company said trading was up 0.8% in the most recent two months.

Taking the costs of shutting its stores out of the balance sheet would mean the company just breaking even, Mr Bernstein said.

He said: “The stock clearance programme in March and the unseasonably warm spring weather have affected the start of the new financial year.”

Chief executive Russell Hardy said: “2006/7 was a very disappointing year. Blacks and Millets have historically benefited from traditional British climate of somewhat wet summers and cold winters.

"Last year, the warmest and driest on record, did not favour our product range and we have therefore done much work to ensure that our product ranges in particular are suitable for the new weather trends.”

The company has signed up Eiger conqueror Sir Ranulph Fienes as its ‘brand ambassador’.

Mr Hardy added: “Both Blacks and Millets thrive in a traditional British climate. The challenge is ensuring these  businesses also thrive when the climate is dry and warm, particularly in the winter.

“Our clothing ranges this year have new, lighter, more breathable fabrics and are designed for these conditions.

“While ensuring we remain true to our ‘outdoor’ credentials, we have developed new ranges for the beach, garden and festival activities that our customers are increasingly enjoying.”

Blacks also trades under the boardwear brands Freespirit and O’Neill.