"I am pleased that the Group, as well as all of our individual brands, were able to record like-for-like sales growth during the Christmas trading period.
The retail market remains an extremely challenging one evidenced by several corporate failures over the last 12 months and is likely to be reflected in trading results across our sector.
It has recently been reported in the press that the Treasury have turned their attention to the tidal waves impacting retail, particularly on our high streets. I would normally welcome this, however, I do wonder whether they are able to see beyond personal interests and conflicts to develop a more level playing field and improved job security for the vast number of people employed locally serving customers in our communities. Will there be a ‘change of tide’? I doubt it. When I see ministers doing personal PR pieces, in the Sunday Press over the Christmas break, comparing their task to that of King Canute to make any meaningful difference to the horrific effects of the dramatic change in the retail landscape… I would say to them “No, Minister you just need to do your job and it's as clear as the nose on your face that serious tax reforms are the answer for the greater good of the Country and the people you purport to serve!” The handling of Brexit, with the disruption and uncertainty caused on one of the most important decisions in recent history gives me little confidence in our government implementing any meaningful change, in the short to medium term.
With time, retailers will and are striving to innovate, taking challenges in their ‘stride’, however, this will be more difficult if we continue to experience the political incompetence and arrogance that has become part of all our daily personal and business lives. The neglect from distracted politicians will ensure that the outlook will remain bleak. I would expect other retailers without the financial strength that we have to come under further pressure as the burden on them is set to increase, once again, next year. I’m afraid to say that I fail to see any signs that we will see a “Strong and Stable” approach to business in the near future.
Our businesses have responded to the challenges presented in different ways. Ryman fared best in store, delivering credible like-for-like sales of 2.5%. This was achieved by strong availability in its core ranges, as well as developing its gifting proposition and services in store like DHL and Western Union. The London Graphic Centre in Covent Garden, acquired by Ryman in October 2016, recorded growth of 2.4% in its second Christmas under the Group’s ownership.
Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue performed more strongly online with growth of 36.7% and 21.4%, respectively. Robert Dyas has successfully developed its ranges and was able to build on growth delivered online earlier in the year. Boux Avenue was probably in the most challenging of markets with discounting a key feature for many fashion retailers. Footfall to key shopping centres has been disappointing, meaning competition amongst brands for customer spend was fierce. Whilst Ryman and Robert Dyas were able to deliver margins ahead of last year, which is very encouraging, this was a challenge for Boux Avenue.
Black Friday has become a permanent fixture during peak trading and perhaps takes the edge away from the Christmas peak as we knew it. All of our brands ran offers through the week, as it has now become, leading up to Black Friday. We are pleased with the response we received from our customers. We have invested significantly in our infrastructure over the last 12 months or so, in particular in building a new warehouse for Boux Avenue as well as a Group Customer Services department to deal with the increased demands in this area. We have planned and invested for our e-commerce businesses to continue to grow across the board.
It was also great to see a new Group initiative of a joint Robert Dyas and Ryman store launched last summer in Bexleyheath, enjoying its first Christmas as such, come in as one of our top performing stores in the period. This success has resulted in us now actively searching for further suitably sited stores to repeat this format.
Despite my frustrations with the environment for doing business, I remain committed to all of our brands and will continue to invest in these as well as look for opportunities to extend the Group as appropriate. That been said, the approach will be a cautious one due to the lack of confidence I have in our current political environment and economic policy, which prioritise power over fixing structural problems, leaving our economy in jeopardy."