Sketchley spruces ups its profits

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The Independent Online
Sketchley, the dry-cleaning group which plunged into the red earlier this year due to the costs of closing 160 branches, turned in a more smartly pressed set of results yesterday, tempered by a cautious statement on consumer spending.

The group made pre-tax profits of pounds 4.8m in the six months to September, a 10 per cent rise on the same period last year. Sketchley said the retail division had prospered following the closure of loss-making outlets and the opening of other units in branches of Sainsbury's.

Commenting on consumer spending, Sketchley chief executive John Jackson said: "It's patchy week by week but generally we believe that consumer spending is strong and we feel that that will continue."

In the year to June, Sketchley recorded a pounds 3.5m loss due to the cost of store closures and launched a pounds 22m rights issue to strengthen the balance sheet. Mr Davies said another eight joint Sketchley and SupaSnap outlets had been opened in Sainsbury's superstores following the agreement reached in March. A further 20 outlets are scheduled to open by the end of the financial year. The company plans to have 200 outlets over the next three years.

He said the performance of high street branches that had been converted into joint sites had continued to improve both in terms of sales and profits.

Sketchley has sold 135 of the 160 outlets axed under the restructure. The other 25 sites are expected to be sold by March.

Current trading is steady with dry cleaning like-for-like sales up by just under 9 per cent since September. SupaSnaps' comparative sales are 4 per cent higher compared with a 5 per cent increase between March and September.

Margins from workwear rental contracts are 1 per cent lower due to competitive pressures. The company plans to compensate for the erosion by driving sales higher.

The expansion of the workwear division has necessitated increased investment in stock and working capital as well as an increase in plant capacity.

Following the rights issue in June, net borrowings at the end of the half were pounds 10. 8m. Gearing stands at 19 per cent compared with 86 per cent at the year end.

Group sales were 4.2 per cent higher at pounds 74.2m. The interim dividend was maintained at 1.1p. Sketchley shares fell 1.5p to 98.5p.