THE Card Factory today said it had delivered a robust sales performance in a challenging consumer environment, as it prepares for the potential impact of Brexit.
In the six months ended July 31 2019, the company achieved total group sales growth of +5.5 per cent and the board anticipates profits for the full year will be broadly in line with its previous expectations.
Over the half year, there was further expansion of the Card Factory's store network with 26 net new UK stores opened. The company said it was on track to meet its target of around 50 net new stores across the UK and Republic of Ireland for the full year.
Founded in 1997, the Wakefield-based firm sells greetings cards, gifts and balloons for special occasions. The Card Factory said there had been encouraging progress on a number of business development and efficiency initiatives. It expects a return of surplus cash to shareholders towards the end of FY20 (full year 2020).
The statement said: "We delivered a good overall sales performance in the first half of the year with the store network's like for like sales increasing by 1.2 per cent, following a strong first quarter particularly helped by our successful Valentine's Day and Mother's Day seasonal ranges. The second quarter was a little weaker in the season of Father's Day, impacted by footfall. The like-for-like sales performance of the Card Factory fascia, including online was +1.5 per cent."
It added: "We are encouraged by the positive response from Card Factory online customers to the improvements we have made to our online ranges, resulting in improved sales conversion and average order value. Despite this good progress, year on year sales growth in the second quarter has slowed as anticipated, reflecting the strength of the prior year comparatives. The trading performance at Getting Personal remains challenging, with sales down 10.5 per cent, impacted by the continued intense price competition and high costs of customer acquisition
"In the first half we opened 26 net new UK stores bringing the total UK estate to 991 stores, with a further seven stores in the Republic of Ireland. Our opening programme in the second half of the year will include both a number of retail park stores and further stores in the Republic of Ireland, which continues to perform well."
The Card Factory said it had made good progress with its ongoing business efficiency programme targeted at mitigating structural cost pressures and there are further opportunities ahead.
The statement added: "However, Card Factory has incurred some additional costs related to the storage of increased stock levels, which includes preparation for the potential impact of Brexit."
"The group remains highly cash generative, driven by our strong operating margins and relatively low capital expenditure requirements.
"As at July 31 2019, before deducting capitalised debt costs, net debt totalled £170.3 million, reflecting strong operating cash generation during the period and the unwind of the favourable working capital movement highlighted at the full year results, together with the FY19 final dividend of £21.9 million being paid in the period."
The Card Factory said that it remains the board's policy to return surplus cash to shareholders.
The statement added: "As outlined in the preliminary results announcement, a further return of surplus cash is expected to be made towards the end of the FY20 financial year. We will provide confirmation as to the quantum and timing of the next distribution at the time of our interim results announcement for the six months ended 31 July 2019, due for release on Tuesday 24 September 2019."
Karen Hubbard, Card Factory's chief executive, said: "Our quality and value proposition continues to resonate well with customers - reflected by the good performance of our seasonal ranges in the first half of the year. We continue to work hard at making sure we have the right ranges at the right prices for our customers, in the store and online. Alongside that, we remain focused on our important commercial and business efficiency initiatives - all of which will make Card Factory a much stronger business for the long term.
"We continue with the trials within Aldi and The Reject Shop in Australia, a further update will be given at our interims announcement in September.
"Looking forward to the forthcoming key Q4 (fourth quarter) trading period, which will have a significant impact on the outturn for the full year, we believe we have the right ranges and products to deliver a good performance; although, we are cognisant of the economic and political uncertainty and weaker consumer confidence."