Bargain hunters give Peacocks a sales boost

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The Independent Online

Bargain-hunters looking for cheap knitwear gave Peacocks a sales boost over Christmas, the fashion chain said today.

The Peacock Group, which owns Peacocks and womenswear retailer Bonmarche, said like-for-like sales showed 1 per cent growth in the 14 weeks to 3 January, but this accelerated to 22 per cent in the final two weeks of the period.

Chief executive Richard Kirk said he had been taken by surprise by the strength of recent sales.

"People are looking for a bargain. We have actually seen people trade down from the middle ground and it has continued to be strong, really, really strong, in the last few weeks," he said.

The sales figures include Bonmarche's performance - which is believed to account for around 20 per cent of the business - but Peacocks is thought to be the main sales driver.

Men's chunky knitwear and women's knitted dresses have proved the most popular of Peacocks' lines.

Mr Kirk said knitwear sales were "just phenomenal" and continued to be strong into the new year. He said last week both sales and profit for these items were up 50%, as the company kept knitwear at full price.

But Mr Kirk sounded a note of caution about the future, warning bumper sales may not continue.

"I would like to think it would - I don't expect it," he said.

He added the cost of imports had risen because of the weakness of the pound against the dollar and said prices across the board were likely to rise 10 per cent.

The Peacock Group, which is privately owned, said it had opened 25 Peacocks stores in the nine months to the end of December, including outlets in Liverpool, Blackpool, Preston, Llanelli, Stafford, Peterborough and Livingston.

The company, which now has 526 Peacocks stores, said it intended opening a further 50 in the next two years, creating 750 new jobs.

Mr Kirk said he expected the retailer to continue to out-perform the market.

Shareholders Perry Capital and Och-Ziff - who supported Mr Kirk's buyout of the company in 2006 - have invested an additional £20 million in the firm to support the expansion plans.

Mr Kirk said the company hoped to take advantage of more favourable arrangements for long term leases on good stores.