Investment column: Country Gdns

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The Independent Online
EVERYBODY KNOWS there's no money to be made in retailing. And what everybody knows ain't always so. Away from the high street, there's money to be made. Country Gardens, which moved from AIM to the main market in 1997, saw a 15 per cent sales and pre-tax profits growth in the first half of the year.

The company is optimistic. Research shows half of the UK's adult population enjoy gardening. CG expects to reap the benefits of the strengthening housing market and expanding middle class. Although CG's markets are growing, it will need more than just green fingers to reap the rewards. Out-of- town retailers like Kingfisher Group and Sainsbury's are trying for a slice of the action. What differentiates CG, however, is its refusal to adopt the pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap strategy of the majors. Its grow bags sell for pounds 3.99, compared to 89p at the DIY stores. Naturally, CG claims its bags are better value and savvy gardeners quickly discover how much so when their tomatoes ripen.

Following its success in the South-east, CG is expanding across the country with new superstores offering a wide range of garden-only products. CCF Charterhouse expects pre-tax profits of pounds 5.5m this year and earnings of 14p per share this year. The shares at 292.5p, up 1p yesterday, are, like its growbags, not cheap.

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