JJB Sports plans to double in size on back of sales surge

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The Independent Online

JJB Sports plans to double the size of its combined health club-cum-superstore estate to 74 over the next two years as it steps up its attempt to become "serious about sport".

A rash of new Premiership sponsorship deals has sparked a rush on the retailer's replica football shirts since the season began, helping its like-for-like sales to shoot 8.8 per cent higher in the past 11 weeks.

Tom Knight, the chief executive, admitted the sales rate was likely to slow sharply over the next few months. "It's still bloody competitive out there. We are trading reasonably well in difficult circumstances," he said.

JJB will today discover whether its appeal against a replica shirt price-fixing fine has been successful or not. The retailer, which made a £3.88m provision in its accounts last year towards the fine, has asked the Court of Appeal to reconsider a £6.7m penalty. The hearing was in May.

Unveiling flat interim profits before tax of £18.2m, Mr Knight said that a 12 per cent rise in turnover to £381.6m had failed to boost the bottom line because the group's margin went backwards during the half. JJB sold £14m worth of replica England shirts during the World Cup, helping underlying sales in the six months to 30 July to climb by 9.5 per cent.

"Let's just say England supporters got some pretty cheap shirts," Mr Knight said, warning that it would be "impossible" to match the rate of sales growth next year with no major sporting tournament due.

After years of selling cheap sportswear and cut-price fashion trainers, JJB is attempting to woo serious sports enthusiasts by increasing its range in key areas such as golf. The company said its new approach was being backed by major brands including Adidas and Nike. As part of this ploy, the group has moved into the health club market, opening leisure clubs on top of its biggest superstores.

Mr Knight said the group had increased its roll-out target for combined sites from 12 stores a year to 15. It aims to have 74 by the end of its financial year to January 2009.