Hamleys blames a `difficult' Christmas for drop in sales

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The Independent Online
THE HAMLEYS chief executive, Chris Ash, yesterday blamed weak sales at Toystack, the group's mass-market toy retailer, as it reported a 2.4 per cent fall in overall sales in the 24 weeks to 16 January - traditionally its busiest period.

A 14 per cent fall in like-for-like sales at Toystack came despite a strong performance at the group's flagship Regent Street store, where sales were up 3.7 per cent, with pre-Christmas sales up 12 per cent on the same period the year before.

House of Toys, the group's Debenhams' concession, also disappointed with a 14 per cent drop in half year sales.

Mr Ash said that there were clear signs that consumers were holding back from spending before Christmas in order to take advantage of lower prices in the sales after the holiday period.

Sales in the three weeks after Christmas have been up, with Hamleys showing an 8 per cent increase and Toystack and House of Toys reporting rises of 6 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. "Overall trading has been difficult in an increasingly competitive environment," Mr Ash said.

Blacks Leisure, the sports and outdoor clothing retailer which also gave a trading update yesterday spoke too of a late rally in sales in December and January.

But that still left like-for like sales down 1 per cent overall in the second half, with First Sport being hit particularly hard by the price war that has broken out among its competitors.

The problems at Marks & Spencer continued to weigh heavily on William Baird, the clothing supplier, which warned that profits for the year would be "not less than" pounds 30m, down from pounds 33.4m in 1997.

Baird is blaming the knock-on effects of problems at Marks & Spencer, which is one of its biggest customers.

Analysts had been expecting profits of around pounds 34m for 1998.

The chief executive of Baird, David Suddens, said that improvements elsewhere in the business will not be enough to make up for the dent in profits that have been caused by the production cut backs at the business supplying the problem-hit High Street retailer.

Sales were down 4 per cent compared to the year before, Baird said.

The group closed two factories late last year with the loss of 477 jobs.