RENT-to-own retailer BrighHouse today revealed that it was on track to achieve its long term goal of opening 650 shops nationwide as it delivered a "resilient" half year performance.
The group, which sells products including laptops, televisions and sofas to customers who pay for them in instalments, also said it was "cautiously optimistic" about Christmas, which it expects to be the best for retailers since 2007.
BrightHouse's customers are typically on low wages or have been denied access to mainstream credit. This "alternative credit market" is made up of an estimated 5.2 million households in the UK. The company has about 175,000 customers throughout the country, who typically live within three miles of their local store.
In the six months to September 30 2010, the company's revenue rose by 15.6 per cent to 109.4m while earnings before interest, taxation depreciation and amortisation increased by 16.4 per cent to 17m.
Fifteen stores opened over the six month period, taking the portfolio to 213 stores. The company is on track to open another 30 stores during the 2010/11 financial year, including three or four in Yorkshire. It currently has 21 stores in the region.
In a trading update, the company said sales had grown across most product lines. The most popular goods in the run up to Christmas are expected to include games consoles, smartphones and flat screen TVs .
Leo McKee, BrightHouse chief executive, said the company's Yorkshire operations had delivered a strong performance.
He added: "In this challenging retail environment, it is pleasing that BrightHouse again has delivered improved revenue, profit and customer numbers.
"Our market, serving low income families, continues to be significantly underserved. Demand for our products and services remains strong. Our store opening programme continues at pace. The new stores are being well received in their local communities, and are performing on plan. In the meantime, we are fully engaged in optimising customer service throughout our peak trading period. Overall, trading year to date is in line with management expectations."
Mr McKee said the company was "obsessive" about improving its services by gaining a greater understanding of its customers' habits. It was also investing in staff training.
About 40 per cent of the firm's customers are recommended by friends and family, he said.
Mr McKee was also heartened by the significant growth in furniture sales. He added: "Since the end of September we have opened a further 12 stores. We are progressing towards 650 stores, but it won't happen tomorrow."
Earlier this year, BrightHouse, revealed that it planned to double its number of Yorkshire stores over the next three to five years by targeting market towns and suburbs. It has pinpointed Pontefract, Selby, Morley, Goole, Rothwell, Skipton, Mexborough, Conisbrough and Brighouse among others. The firm opened a a large store in the Merrion Centre in Leeds in August last year as part of its expansion plans.
Mr McKee said: "I would love to find a store in York, but it has to be a certain size of store. It's got to be 2,500 to 3,000 sq ft and it's got to have vehicle access for furniture and large fridges."
He said some of the store's customers were concerned about the prospect of being under-employed as the public sector faces spending cuts.
However, Mr McKee said many parents were determined to ensure that their children enjoyed Christmas, despite the austerity measures recently announced. As a result, he was prepared for good sales of toys and computer games.
He said: "Customers are looking to keep spending in check by shopping online for the best deals.
"They are definitely shopping around. Retailers can't assume that customers will always be loyal, not least because of the growth of the internet. Customers are more demanding than they have ever been.
"People with big items want them to be durable."
He said pre-Christmas trading had been positive, and he had also been encouraged by the recent trading data from other retailers.
BrightHouse said its customers valued the convenience of making weekly payments and the personal relationship they developed with the local store manager.
The company employs about 2,500 staff.
Independent research indicates a 97 per cent customer satisfaction rate, BrightHouse said.
Through its community programme BrightHouse supports the NSPCC, Sports Aid and the Retail Trust.