Sketchley wears loss of British Coal work

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THE sharp fall in the number of mineworkers at British Coal has undermined a revival in fortunes at Sketchley, the dry cleaner.

British Coal, which had 95,000 employees using the group's rented overalls three years ago, was the largest customer of Sketchley's laundered working clothes contracts. Just 15,000 workers are supplied now.

Pre-tax profits at the high-street cleaner rose by 65 per cent from pounds 3.1m to pounds 5.1m, but last year's figure was depressed by a pounds 1.65m exceptional charge. Underlying operating profits advanced 12 per cent to pounds 6.6m in the year to 1 April.

Profits from textile services, the work clothes business, fell from pounds 5.4m to pounds 4.8m. Tony Bloom, joint deputy chairman, said that although the British Coal business had been contracting, Sketchley had found new clients, including J Sainsbury, the supermarket group.

Profit from leasing vending machines, which is being wound up, fell from pounds 2.4m to pounds 1.5m.

The high-street retail outlets moved from a pounds 198,000 loss last time to profit of pounds 23m as the division was helped by the acquisition of SupaSnaps, the photo processor, in April 1993.

The company has 450 Sketchley dry cleaners, 350 SupaSnaps outlets and 50 shops that house both franchises under one roof. It plans to convert another 100 shops to the dual format.

Ignoring the exceptional charge, earnings per share rose to 6.7p from 6.6p. The dividend was up 3p to 3.2p with the shares rising 5p to 110p.

The pounds 12.4m legal claim by Eurocopy, the office equipment rental company, which started in 1989 over the disposal of a company by Sketchley to Eurocopy, has been reduced to pounds 3.7m plus interest. The company said yesterday: 'Sketchley will continue to resist the claims strenuously.'