Highlights for Q4
- UK store closures ahead of plan, with 56 loss-making stores closed during the year
- UK like-for-like sales supported by strong double-digit growth from Direct in Home
- Continued focus on cash gross margin
- Double-digit International growth, despite continuing Eurozone weakness
- New innovative product launches during the year
- Underlying profit before tax for FY2013 is in line with market expectations
Excluding Australia and New Zealand, our International business opened 115 stores and increased space by 13.5% during the year. We now operate from 1,069 stores across 60 countries and remain encouraged by the growth opportunities across all our regions.
International retail sales, excluding Australia and New Zealand, grew by 15.3% in constant currencies during the fourth quarter. The easing of adverse currency movements resulted in a similar increase in reported retail sales.
With the exception of Europe, which continues to be impacted by ongoing weakness across the Eurozone, our International business has again delivered double-digit retail sales growth both for the quarter and year as a whole. In Russia, our largest market outside the UK, retail sales reached a new high of ÂGBP120 million this year while in China retail sales were up 80% for the year.
In January we announced that the Directors of Mothercare Australia Limited, in which Mothercare plc had a minority 23% shareholding, had taken the decision to place the business into administration. Having assessed various potential strategies, the administrators have decided to close the business. As a result all 74 stores in Australia and New Zealand will close in due course.
During the quarter, we closed 14 stores (four Mothercare and 10 ELC), exceeding our original target for the year by six. Having closed 56 stores (13 Mothercare and 43 ELC) during the year, we now operate from 255 stores (196 Mothercare and 59 ELC) in the UK.
These store closures have reduced space by 7.2% year-on-year and eliminated some of our worst performing stores. A strong performance from Direct in Home has limited the impact of our store closure programme, resulting in total UK sales declines of 5.1% for the fourth quarter.
Our focus on improving value, service and availability for both stores and Direct is beginning to have a positive impact. This is clearly evident in the steady and continued improvement in customer satisfaction scores. We have started to introduce more innovation into the business.
Our most notable launches this year have been the Value clothing range; Innosense, our own brand feeding range; and Xpedior, our own brand pushchair at the very competitive price of ÂGBP250, all aimed at better addressing the needs of our customers.
Our work to improve availability and increase innovation and choice for our customers has required us to build stock levels for certain product lines. This planned investment in stock has increased net debt, which we now expect to be no more than ÂGBP35 million at 30 March 2013.
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