Matalan sales slither as snow keeps buyers away

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The Independent Online

Matalan, the fashion and homewares retailer, suffered a sharp fall in sales over Christmas after the heavy snow hampered shoppers' efforts to reach its out-of-town stores.

But the retailer, which has 209 UK stores and five overseas, boasted that its "aggressive tactical" price promotions had mitigated the risk of being left with unsold stock – known as terminal stock – and allowed it to delay its clearance sale until Boxing Day. This helped it end December with more than £100m of cash on its balance sheet.

Despite this, Matalan joined a long-list of chains in blaming the snow for dire trading. Retailers from Mothercare to HMV cited the severe weather for profit warnings earlier this month.

For the 19 weeks to 8 January, Matalan's like-for-like sales tumbled by 4.5 per cent. Paul Gilbert, the retailer's finance director and acting chief executive, said: "The extreme weather experienced in December was frustrating, however, we have managed the terminal stock risk and our cash balances well." Over the 39 weeks to 27 November, the retailer's sales rose by 0.7 per cent to £836m, down by 0.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Its underlying earnings for the year to date are down marginally to £134.9m. Matalan opened seven new stores over the period.

The chain continues to search for a new chief executive, following the departure of Alistair McGeorge last year. On the outlook, Mr Gilbert, who is a candidate for the top job, said: "2011 will be demanding and our focus will be on maintaining our price competitiveness, driving further efficiency into our cost base, continuing to invest in new stores and growing our customer base."