Pentos plans experiment with discount bookshops

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The Independent Online
PENTOS, the Dillons and Hatchards bookshops group, is planning an experimental move downmarket, opening half a dozen discount stores under a new facia, Claude Gill Bargain Books.

Pentos, which reported a 17 per cent decline in pre-tax profits to pounds 2.4m for the six months to 30 June, said same-store sales volumes were slightly down.

Terry Maher, chairman, said: 'More people are looking for bargains, not just bargain books, but in all areas of the high street. One could see bargain books becoming 5 to 10 per cent of our total book sales. And when the Net Book Agreement finally goes it will be another way of tackling the market with aggression.' Pentos is opposed to the NBA, a restrictive practice preventing discounts. .

The first CGBB would probably open in Oxford Street in London. The group's existing Claude Gill shops will be converted to the Dillons facia. Pentos already runs some discount bookshops within Debenhams department stores.

Among the other Pentos subsidiaries, Athena lifted total sales 2 per cent, despite a collapse in orders from overseas and third parties. New orders, including one from Marks & Spencer, will partly redress the fall in the second half.

Wilding, the office equipment chain bought earlier this year, performed 20 per cent below expectations because of lower prices.

The group's interest bill worsened from pounds 1.9m to pounds 2.5m, partly because of extra borrowings taken on to pay the pounds 4m closure costs of the Wilding acquisition.

That purchase was part-financed by a share issue: earnings per share fell 24 per cent to 1.3p. The interim dividend was unchanged at 0.7p.

Mr Maher said the prospects for academic book sales this autumn were good, with student numbers up 10 per cent in Dillons' catchment areas.

The shares rose 10p to 75p, on relief the figures were not worse after the June profits warning. Joan D'Olier, analyst with County NatWest, lifted her full-year forecast from pounds 16.2m to pounds 17m.

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