Toy chain defies high-street blues with tripling of profits

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The Independent Online

The Early Learning Centre, the educational toys chain, has nearly trebled its profits, according to accounts just filed at Companies House.

Although many retailers are complaining of tough conditions on the high street, annual pre-tax profits rose from £3.5m to £9.9m, while turnover increased to £178m, up from £174m.

The Early Learning Centre - which sells, distributes and designs toys aimed at children from birth to six years old, and has a chain of more than 200 shops - is part of Chelsea Stores Holdings, in which chairman Tim Waterstone has a stake of around 10 per cent.

Mr Waterstone is best known for the chain of bookshops that he founded in 1982. He eventually sold the business, now part of HMV, and recently failed in a bid to buy it back.

He and Nigel Robertson, a former joint managing director of online retailer Ocado, acquired Early Learning Centre two years ago for £62m from its management and 3i. The venture capital company had bought it from John Menzies in 2001 after paying £21m and taking on £9m of debt.

Chelsea Stores Holdings also owns Daisy and Tom, a children's retailer that was started by Mr Waterstone in 1997.

Despite the improved figures, no dividend was paid. The previous year saw a £1.3m payout.