Wakefield-based Bonmarche said underlying sales rose 7.8 per cent in the six months to September 27, boosted by the introduction of more contemporary styles as women over 50 demand more stylish, fashionable ranges.
The group said the warm weather hit October and November sales, but with the cold snap arriving this week it expects annual results to be in line with expectations.
Bonmarche’s chief executive Beth Butterwick said: “With the warm autumnal weather, trading was more difficult in October and November, but we took appropriate action so we are very pleased.”
This action involved introducing “transitional” ranges that can be worn between the seasons. This typically involves layering so customers can put on a cardigan or top when cold and take it off if the weather warms up.
“We launched transitional products for the autumn such as everyday separates, not knitwear and coats so much,” said Ms Butterwick.
At the same time the group has become less “classic” and more “contemporary” as women in their 50’s, 60s, 70s and 80s refuse to adhere to old stereotypes about how they should dress.
“Customers are embracing the shift to more contemporary designs. They are a lot more style conscious,” said Ms Butterwick.
She said that one of the group’s best sellers has been the tummy tuck and bottom lift jeans.
The group has reinforced its “first price, right price” policy, which ensures that the lowest priced items in any category is competitive and offers value for money when measured against rivals.
“We’re not the cheapest. We’re 20 per cent more expensive than the supermarkets, but we’re 20 per cent less expensive than Marks & Spencer,” said Ms Butterwick.
In August, Bonmarche re-launched the Ann Harvey brand in 23 stores and online. The relaunch is focused on occasion wear and smart day wear, with an extended size range designed to cater for sizes 16 to 32.
The range is priced around 25 per cent above Bonmarche’s highest priced items, but is 20 per cent cheaper than the previous Ann Harvey range.
The trial will continue to help the group decide which elements are successful and how best to develop the brand.
“There isn’t a particularly good offering out there for mature customers,” said Ms Butterwick.
“Ann Harvey is set at slightly higher price points with dresses at £80 and they can be a bit more fashionable. We can do tests and learn. We are very agile.”
Over the autumn Bonmarche launched a menswear trial, following requests from existing female customers.
Ms Butterwick said men are accustomed to shopping in Bonmarche with their wives and have embraced the concept.
“We’ve had congratulatory letters from men for catering for an element that isn’t being catered for,” she said.
Following the introduction of jumpers and tops for men, Bonmarche is to launch a range of chinos and shorts in the spring.
The group said that the weather from April to July created very strong demand for seasonal ranges, which generated a first quarter store like-for-like sales increase of 13.5 per cent.
It said the second quarter performance was more mixed. July’s hot weather created strong demand for summer stock and August’s marked change to cooler weather created demand for transitional lines.
The very warm September reduced demand for autumn clothing, resulting in a 2.1 per cent decline in store like-for-like sales in the second quarter.
Ms Butterwick said online sales delivered strong growth in both quarters, but as with stores, the warm autumn reduced demand for heavier garments and the online growth curve dipped during September.
Online sales represented 7.2 per cent of total sales, up from 5.4 per cent last year.
Half year pre-tax profits rose 68 per cent to £6.4m in the six months to September 27 and revenues were up 12 per cent to £91.1m.
The group reported strong cash generation with cash and cash equivalents at the half year end of £13.5m, up from £11.3m.
Bonmarche said it would pay an interim dividend of 2.3p per share.