British department store group House of Fraser on Monday reported a 7.1 percent increase in comparable-store sales for the eight weeks to Jan. 2 as private brands and growth in online revenues enabled the company to buck the general malaise gripping the U.K. retail scene.
The results include the company’s best-ever Christmas week, with sales on Dec. 26, a legal holiday in the U.K., rising 27 percent on a comp basis. Gross profits also were up, House of Fraser said, although it did not provide a percentage figure.
“We saw improving trends throughout the year,” said John King, House of Fraser’s chief executive officer. “Q1 was negative, Q2 was positive, Q3 was even more positive and Q4 was even better.”
The ceo said the strong performance came in almost all product categories, driven by sales of own brands, which grew 33 percent, and online, which rose 91 percent. Own and licensed brands include Linea, Episode, New & Lingwood, Howick and Kenneth Cole New York, which House of Fraser licenses in the U.K. and which is different than the product sold in the U.S. Women’s accessories sales rose 20 percent and men’s wear increased 12 percent on a comps basis.
“Our Web site nearly doubled, and we are very pleased,” King said. “We now have over 600 brands online, and we will add a similar number this year. Online is still a small part of our overall business, but we think it will be the biggest part in three years.”
House of Fraser operates 61 stores throughout the U.K. and Ireland, having opened four stores in 2008. King said the company performance was particularly strong in London and the southeastern U.K., Belfast, Northern Ireland and Scotland. One benefit in London has been the weakness of the pound against the euro, attracting a large number of tourists.
Looking ahead, the ceo said there are no plans to open stores this year, with the focus on refurbishments, including the Glasgow, Scotland, flagship, its second largest after the one in Oxford Street in London. House of Fraser also sees substantial opportunity to increase its own brands portfolio, which currently account for 10 percent of revenues but which King wants to increase to a third. Five more brands will be launched in the current year, including Pied a Terre home products, women’s wear and accessories and Biba, which House of Fraser bought late last year. House of Fraser also is in talks with Michael Kors to develop a collection specifically for the retailer, King said. He also sees potential to grow jewelry and the service element of beauty, such as nails, waxing and botox, which House of Fraser currently offers in 12 stores.
“What we have found is the customer wants something different and they want brands,” said King. “We have a breadth of brands that no one else has and we want to build on that.”
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