Wickes and Toolstation both benefited from the strong online appetite for tools and equipment as traders tackled essential work and homeowners improved their houses during a year disrupted by Covid-19 lockdowns.
Their existing digital infrastructure meant both retailers’ branches could be repurposed as fulfilment centres in the early stages of the first Covid-19 lockdown last March, as the businesses focused on supporting essential projects such as the building of the Nightingale hospitals by offering home delivery and click and collect. Both benefited too as householders improved their homes during the year.
Parent company Travis Perkins today reported sales of £6.2bn in the year to December 31. That’s 11.5% down on the same time last year. Like-for-like (LFL) sales – which strip out the effect of store openings and closures – were 7.1% down on last time. It reported a pre-tax loss of £7.7m down from a pre-tax profit of £180.8m a year earlier. But when £140m of one-off costs – primarily from a business restructuring programme that will see about 190 Travis Perkins builder’s merchant and plumbing and heating branches close – were taken into account, the group reported a statutory operating profit of £77m, down from £232m a year earlier.
Travis Perkins is restarting plans to demerge Wickes that were put on hold at the onset of Covid-19 and expects the process to complete in April. The group has been able to repay all the £46m support given to Toolstation and Wickes at the onset of the pandemic as a result of their strong performance.
Travis Perkins chief executive Nick Roberts says that despite the “unprecedented challenges” of 2020 the group has shown “great agility and versatility in adapting our working practices, further digitalising our engagement with customers and reshaping our business to suit the changing demands of our markets.”
He added: “I am pleased today to be able to confirm that the process to demerge Wickes has recommenced. The Wickes digitally-led model has proved highly effective during the pandemic and the business is in great shape to embark on its journey as a standalone entity.”
The number of online orders collected from Wickes’ stores grew by more than 450% during its last financial year, while home deliveries more than doubled. The retailer is now working to make its distribution operations more efficient since it expects that an increasing share of sales will take place online in the future.
Travis Perkins’ retail division was primarily made up of Wickes during the year – exclusively so once the Tile Giant business was sold in September 2020. The retail division reported sales of £1.4bn during the year, an increase of 3.6% on last time. An adjusted operating profit of £77m was 20.6% down from £97m last time.
Wickes’ LFL sales were 5% ahead in the 52 weeks to December 26, with sales of its core DIY range up by 19.3% LFL, as customers bought online for both home delivery and collection, and bought across a broad range of categories. But LFL sales in its kitchens and bathroom showroom business were 27.8% down as this part of the business was more affected by Covid-19 restrictions. The business repaid its government support, and so incurred about £7m in unproductive labour costs related to showroom, delivery and installation staff, while Covid-19 social distancing measures came to £9m. During the second half of the year, the retailer developed a digital virtual customer journey to support that part of its business, enabling it to continue trading despite showroom closures.
The retailer will have a market capitalisation of about £130m when it is demerged from Travis Perkins in April, continued a process put on pause at the emergence of the pandemic last year. By the end of the year it had 233 stores, following two closures.
Toolstation rebuilt its website within days at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, so that its branches could operate as click and collect fulfilment centres. Over the course of the following weeks, its IT infrastructure was replatformed in order to make it scalable and more resilient. At the same time, its Redditch distribution centre was expanded and started to fulfil home delivery orders customer from its previous role in store replenishment.
It added 60 new UK branches during the year, to take it to a UK total of 460, while its European business added 17 new branches, to a total of 83. These include trials of new small format stores and click and collect-led stores as the retailer looks to improve the customer experience and become more efficient. A similar number of openings are expected in 2021.
Toolstation full-year sales of £633m were 42.1% higher than the previous year, growing by 22.2% LFL. Sales in the UK alone were 20.9% up on last time, despite lockdowns in late March and April. Adjusted operating profit came in at £24m, down by 17.2% on last time, as the costs of adapting the distribution network to operate in a socially distanced way, the higher proportion of delivered sales, and the investment in digital offset its sales growth.
Toolstation is a Top50 retailer in RXUK Top500 research.