The Financial Week Ahead – Boots strides out.

The crowded UK high street is no place for retail laggards and household favourite Boots is embracing growth in a bid to keep ahead of the competition.

The Nottingham-based group last year had to counter the purchase of the ASDA group and the world’s biggest retailer, US-based Wal-Mart Stores, and price cutting campaigns by competitor Tesco.

The dependable chemist is reversing its cautious reputation and building on its #5.3bn market capitalisation with an astute emphasis on new services such as dentistry and making cost-cutting measures across its manufacturing subsidiaries.

Financial director David Thompson and board members today release annual results, expected to build on interim figures last November that revealed strong growth with pre-tax profits up 10.5% to #277.9m and operating cash flow doubling to #368.9m.

‘Our UK retailing businesses are operating in an intensely competitive environment’, commented colleague and chairman Lord Blyth of Rowington.

‘We have achieved strong growth in profit and cash flow while maintaining a heavy programme of new service trials and product launches.’

In April, Thompson, 57, was appointed deputy chief executive in addition to his role as finance director of the group that includes 1,400 Boots the Chemist drugstores in the UK and Ireland, 400 Halfords stores and 300 optician outlets.

A turnaround at Boots started three years ago when senior management began to offload non-essential business areas with the sale of its home decorating chains Homestyle and Fads to Alchemy, the venture capitalist made famous by its attempt to purchase Rover.

It has expanded its presence abroad with a strategic link-up with Mitsubishi leading to its first stores opening in Japan in 1998, and plans to move into Taiwan by the end of the year. Earlier this month the group announced expansion in Latin America with the launch of its Strepsils in Argentina.

A fellow of the English ICA, member of The Hundred Group of Finance Directors and non-executive director of Cadbury Schweppes, Thompson joined Boots in 1966.

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