Troubled Clinton Cards and JJB fight back with strong festive figures

Two of the high street's most embattled chains, JJB Sports and Clinton Cards, gave their battered shareholders cause for hope yesterday with an improvement in their trading over Christmas.

Shares in both retailers, particularly those of JJB, soared from their lowly positions, although industry experts cautioned it was too early to call a recovery at the troubled chains.

Meanwhile, Games Workshop, the retailer and manufacturer of Warhammer battle games, grew its pre-tax profits by two-fifths to £9.5m for the six months to 28 November, although more than 70 per cent of its revenues come from outside the UK.

Clinton Cards, the 771-store greeting card retailer, did not say anything about profits in its Christmas trading update. But its new chief executive said self-help measures had helped it to deliver its first rise in underlying sales for more than a year.

Clinton Cards, which suffered a loss of £10.7m in last financial year, grew like-for-like sales by 0.4 per cent over the five weeks to 1 January, although it was up against falling sales for the snow-affected same period last year.

Darcy Willson-Rymer, the former head of Starbucks UK who took the helm at Clintons in October, touted "a single-minded focus on the customer" and an improvement in its retail disciplines, such as putting more fast-selling stock on its shelves. "While I acknowledge the weather point [about the 2010 snow], I see the impact of the action we took," he said.

Its core Clinton chain delivered a 0.8 per cent increase in sales, but they dropped by 2.7 per cent at the group's Birthdays shops in the UK over the Christmas period.

But Simon Chinn, the lead consultant at Conlumino, said: "It is too early to say whether this mildly positive result is a consequence of the changes made to date, or are merely driven by a very weak comparative last year."

Shares in Clintons rose by 0.75p, or 7 per cent, to 11.5p yesterday, although they remain down by more than a quarter since the first week of November.

Mr Willson-Rymer is undertaking a strategic review covering Clintons' customer service, store portfolio, business efficiencies and its website.

Meanwhile, JJB Sports, which narrowly avoided collapse last year for the second time since 2009, said its sales are falling at a less dramatic pace than before. Its Christmas trading statement showed sales tumbled by 7.8 per cent for the 21 weeks to 26 December – a big improvement on the 17.7 per cent fall in the first half of the year.

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