GREETINGS card retailer Card Factory reported a year of strong growth and said it plans to open around 50 new stores this year.
The Wakefield-based group said like-for-like sales rose 1.8 per cent in the 11 months to December 31 despite tough comparatives with the previous year.
The firm said it is trading in line with expectations and high cash generation will result in a significant reduction in net debt at the year end to a level lower than currently expected.
It added that investment in localised pricing strategies is paying off and it will continue to adopt this approach to defend its market leading position.
A total of 51 net new stores opened in the year to date, bringing the total estate to 764 stores as at the end of 2014.
The group reported strong growth in its online division Getting Personal, with double digit revenue growth since the half year stage.
The group’s CEO Richard Hayes said: “It is pleasing to report that the group continues to perform well, has had a solid Christmas trading period, and is on course to deliver sales growth at a similar level to the previous year.”
He said that the strength of the group’s retail proposition is the key to its performance and it is well placed to further improve the customer offer in the year ahead.
“This is underpinned by our established vertically integrated model which has been developed over the past decade with significant investment,” he said.
The group not only sells cards, but manufactures many of them as well, giving it far more control and cutting out the middle man.
“As the clear market leader, we remain confident of our ability to achieve further profitable growth,” said Mr Hayes.
The company said that Paul McCrudden, EMEA head of content marketing at Twitter, has now joined the board as an independent non-executive director.
The group said Mr McCrudden will bring a wealth of digital and marketing experience that will be particularly helpful as it develops its online activities.
Analyst Kate Calvert at Investec said: “Card Factory has delivered another good sales performance and is trading in-line with market expectations.
“Cash generation has been very strong with management guiding to net debt at year end being below the current market expectations.
“We believe this makes the possibility of a capital return more likely in 2016, with the strength of its cash generation and potential to return capital not reflected in the current valuation in our view. We reiterate our buy recommendation.”
She added that the slowdown in like-for-like sales growth was due to a strong comparables and a move to boxed Christmas cards.