House of Fraser delivered a set of sparkling Christmas figures yesterday and helped to spread some cheer in the beleaguered retail sector.
The 59-store group, which was taken private by the Icelandic investment company Baugur in November 2006, reported like-for-like sales growth of 2.4 per cent in the five weeks to 3 January. Its gross profit was also up on the same period a year ago.
The company's chairman, Don McCarthy, said the strong festive trading was a "superb end to effectively our first year in control of House of Fraser".
Despite a somewhat gloomier outlook across the industry, Mr McCarthy said he was confident for 2008 and added that Fraser's had trimmed its debt by more than 110m since its refinancing plan was put in place.
In the past year, Fraser's has renovated 15 shops, including the ground floor of its flagship store in London's Oxford Street, and added new brands including Gap, Hamley's and Mappin & Webb. It has also expanded other brands, such as Karen Millen, focused on stock control, improved its website and cut down on the number of sale days which has improved its profit margins.
House of Fraser plans to open four more stores this year, in Belfast, High Wycombe, Bristol and White City in west London.
Department stores appeared to avoid the general high street malaise over Christmas, putting in solid performances after investing heavily in stores and improving product ranges.
Selfridges enjoyed a 9 per cent sales increase, while John Lewis was another strong performer, with an 8 per cent sales rise and 70m passing through its tills in the week to 29 December.
Analysts said the demise of independent department stores had also benefited the major chains.