The mid players triumph in festive store war

Mid-sized retailers appear to have won the Christmas battle as the likes of WH Smith, Currys, PC World, Halfords and Poundland all put in a strong performance over the festive period, in stark contrast to the woes facing the big supermarket chains.

At a time when supermarket chains Morrisons and Tesco are announcing store closures and falling sales, these smaller, more nimble players are seeing a return to growth.

The newly created company behind Carphone Warehouse and Currys PC World said like-for-like sales rose eight per cent in the UK and Ireland in the nine weeks to January 3, while Halfords, whose boss Matt Davies is to take charge of Tesco UK in June, said like-for-like sales rose seven per cent in the 15 weeks to January 9.

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Poundland said sales rose 10 per cent on a constant currency basis in the 13 weeks to December 28, while WH Smith said sales rose seven per cent at its all-important travel outlets in the 20 weeks to January 17.

New firm Dixons Carphone said trading was ahead of expectations and annual profits are likely to come in ahead of city forecasts.

Chief executive Sebastian James said the “huge scale and success” of Black Friday promotions at the end of November caused a lull in trading over the following three weeks before a record Boxing Day.

“The strange shape of this year’s Christmas trading was something of a rollercoaster but I am very pleased with the end result,” he said.

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Laptop sales returned to growth, but a lack of new products meant tablet sales fell sharply in the period.

The company also reported growth in “ultra-high-definition” TVs and a strong peak trading period in white goods.

Halfords reported strong demand for car parts, batteries and children’s bicycles over the festive period.

Car maintenance sales jumped 11 per cent as Halfords’ fitting service for bulbs, batteries and blades reached record levels, completing 100,000 jobs in a week for the first time.

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In cycling, where Halfords is expanding its range of accessories and premium end gear in order to compete in the £1bn market, sales of children’s bikes rose almost 14 per cent.

Sales at the firm’s car repair unit, Autocentres, rose six per cent in the period, ahead of expectation.

Mr Davies has been credited with reviving the company’s fortunes since joining in October 2012, boosting sales by improving stores and customer service.

“I am gutted to be leaving Halfords,” he said. “It was only the scale of the Tesco opportunity and the opportunity to work with (Tesco CEO) Dave Lewis and the team that really pulled me away.”

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Poundland had a successful Christmas, but its growth slowed from the 15 per cent reported in its first half. The group attributed this to the timing of new store openings.

Poundland’s chief executive Jim McCarthy said festive highlights included the sale of 50 million chocolate items, 1.5 million advent calendars and 600,000 boxes of crackers, all at £1.

WH Smith hailed the increase in sales at its lucrative travel division as people travelling over the festive period stocked up on newspaper, books, magazines and snacks.

High street sales fell five per cent, which was in line with its plan, but it said gross margins grew.

Pet care firm Pets at Home reported a four per cent rise in like-for-like sales, boosted by its VIP Club loyalty programme and online.