Proud Peacock set to expand

In its latest trading statement, group finance director Keith Bryant reported like-for-like sales up 8.2% for the 25 weeks to 20 September, the group’s half-year mark, with like-for-like gross profit up 13.1% for the same period.

The low-cost clothing retailer has opened 36 new stores in the first half of the year and hopes to open another 24 stores by the end of the financial year in March. The group has two brands, Peacocks and Bonmarche.

The group believes there is potential for 700 Peacock stores and 500 branches of Bonmarche – boosting the current 670 stores.

The trading statement caused analysts to upgrade their profit forecasts for the group. Investec, Numis and Evolution Beeson Gregory revised their full year-end pre-tax profit forecasts from £32.5m to £34.5m.

Seymour Pierce predicted pre-tax profits of £33.5m for the next full year-end, and said the outlook for the Peacock Group was ‘pretty rosy’.

If achieved, the group will have grown pre-tax profits by 47% on the March 2003 figure of £22.8m.

Rhys Williams, analyst at Seymour Pierce, said Peacock’s gearing, at 93%, was no cause for concern and that the group was in a perfectly comfortable position.

The combination of a refurbishment programme and a focus on more fashionable lines of women’s clothing have driven sales growth in Peacock stores, according to a spokesman. He said that sales growth at Bonmarche, acquired last year, has been driven by improved general performance.

The group forecasts a busy Christmas as improving economic conditions feed through to the high street.

The group’s board shows a strong reliance on and belief in the qualities of finance directors.

Chairman John Lovering is a former finance director of Sears. Keith Bryant joined Peacocks as finance director in 1997. He is a former FD of Top Shop and Top Man. And non-executive director Keith Roberts is CFO of Petrofac Ltd, an oil and gas services business.

Lovering is also proof positive that a background in financial management is compatible with more entrepreneurial qualities. Together with colleagues Chris Woodhouse and Rob Templeman, he led the 2001 management buy-out of Homebase subsequently selling the DIY chain to GUS for £900m.


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