JJB Sports has the form to beat forecast

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The Independent Online
JJB Sports, Britain's biggest independent sports goods retailer, is set fair to sail past the profits forecast it made at the time of its flotation in November. The company, run by David Whelan, the former Blackburn Rovers footballer, issued a bullish trading statement yesterday that lifted its shares 5p to 246p in a falling market. The company floated at 215p a share, valuing it at £64.5m. Its market capitalisation is now £72m.

Total sales from 126 stores climbed 44 per cent, with like-for-like sales ahead 14 per cent. The board said it expected profits for the year to the end of January to "comfortably exceed the forecast of not less than £6.6m made at the time of flotation". JJB made £4.6m in 1993.

Sales improved across all product categories - clothing, replica kit, footwear and equipment - with the main increases in clothing and footwear. There was also a small improvement in the gross margin.

Mr Whelan said: "We are extremely pleased with the continued progress we've made, particularly given the tough competition in our market place." He attributed JJB's success, compared with competitors such as the Olympus chain, owned by Sears, to having the right formula and offering value for money. "We've never been dependent on fashion," he said. "What we sell is the stuff that people use for sport, which does not go out of fashion."

JJB will open 30 new stores this year, including 10 in Northern Ireland, where it does not yet have a presence. There are also plans for three or four out-of-town superstores, with the first to open in Scotland in May.

Mr Whelan, whose footballing career ended with a broken leg in the 1960 FA Cup final, started the business in Wigan in 1971 with just £400. After the flotation, he retained a 32.6 per cent stake in JJB, and his son-in-law, Duncan Sharpe, who is managing director, has a 17.4 per cent holding.