Wickes plans to expand on sparkling results

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The Independent Online
Britain's DIY market, which has already seen the Sainsbury's takeover of Texas Homecare and a big expansion plan announcement by B&Q in the past few weeks, was primed for further activity yesterday when Wickes, the trade specialist, unveiled an equally aggressive expansion programme on the back of sparkling annual results.

Wickes, which targets the serious DIY buff and builders' merchant, says it will add a further 25 stores this year, including five in Continental Europe. These are on top of the 16 Wickes opened last year and bring the group's total to 132.

The chairman, Henry Sweetbaum, said he believed there was room in the market for extra stores. "Not many of the others are actually adding that much extra space."

Mr Sweetbaum also said he was relatively unconcerned about the Sainsbury's- Texas merger. "I think it will leave us in quite a satisfactory position. Sainsbury's is very much at the decorative end of the market - it's very Laura Ashley. We are reasonably dominant at the necessary, or structural, end. They are higher margin, we are value-driven and keener on price." He added that the merger was more likely to put pressure on B&Q, part of the bedraggled Kingfisher empire and the Do-It-All joint venture between Boots and WH Smith. "We are quite happy competing next door," he said.

Mr Sweetbaum was speaking as he announced an impressive set of results that beat analysts' forecasts and showed that profits had increased for the 13th successive year. Pre-tax profits for the year to 31 December surged 69 per cent to £30.1m on sales up 21 per cent to £733.6m. The full- year dividend was raised by 80 per cent to 1.8p. The stores also achieved like-for-like sales increases of 12 per cent with no price inflation.

"It shows what can be done with good focus and low prices even in a sluggish market," said Nick Bubb, retail analyst at Morgan Stanley. He added that Wickes should be able to make £44m next year.

Even the Hunter Timber subsidiary, which has been losing money for four years, edged into the black with a £2.3m profit.

The shares finished 1p higher at 96p.

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