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JD Williams owner sees profits double as it focuses on profitability rather than discount-led sales

Jacamo's new mobile-first website will launch next year. Image: N Brown Group

JD Williams, Simply Be and Jacamo owner N Brown Group today reported its profits had doubled in the first half of the financial year, compared to the same time last year. 

The retail group says its strategic direction is now to focus on “profitable growth, rather than promotion-led sales”.

N Brown Group today reported group revenue of £346.8m in the half-year to August 28 2021. That’s 0.1% up on the same time last year. Pre-tax profits of £28.2m were double the £14.1m reported last time.

The digital-first retail group said its five strategic brands – which include JD Williams, ranked Top100 in RXUK Top500 research, and Top150 retailers Simply Be and Jacamo, alongside Ambrose Wilson and new brand Home Essentials – saw product revenue grow by 14.9%, while overall product revenue grew by 3.3%. Its legacy brands are currently going through a managed decline, as the retail group focuses on developing stronger brands, while offering credit. Total active customers fell by 5.7% which N Brown says is part of that decline, but orders per customer grew by 12.5% as shoppers bought more clothing and footwear from its strategic brands.

N Brown says it has has focused on improving the digital experience during the first half of the year, with improved customer checkouts and a new in-house studio for customised content. Shoppers now visit more often, with website sessions up by 11.2%, and and orders up by 6.4% on the same time last year. 

Moves towards improving sustainability include membership of the better cotton initiative (BCI) with a plan to source 50% of cotton from certified routes by the end of the year. It also says that greenhouse gas emissions per item shipped are down by 42% compared to the base line, as it moves towards the target of a 35% reduction by the end of the year. 

Steve Johnson, N Brown Group chief executive, says: “Over the last six months the consumer environment has been volatile. Nevertheless, momentum has continued throughout the business, with customers responding well to our improved product ranges; particularly across our five strategic brands. This is testament to the restructuring work we have done across the Group and the investments we are beginning to make to support our refreshed strategy. None of this would be possible without the talent, drive and commitment of our team, who have responded incredibly to the uncertainties we face. 

“Our mission is to be the most inclusive retailer in the UK, across both fashion and home. We’re excited to see new brand partnerships resonating with both existing and new customers, bringing this mission to life, including Amanda Holden and Davina McCall on JD Williams, and Frankie Bridge and Nicki Bamford-Bowes on Home Essentials. 

“We continue to deliver on our plan and are feeling well prepared for peak trading. EBITDA remains in-line with our expectations, and we are looking forward to exciting our customers with our new ranges as we head towards the Christmas peak. However, we do so with the backdrop of continued uncertainty around consumer confidence.” 

Looking ahead, the retail group now expects product revenue to grow by between 1% and 4%, and for group revenue to be flat in its 2022 full year. Adjusted earnings are expected to come in between £93m and £100m.

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