Out-of-town homewares retailer Dunelm said a strong online performance and an upbeat start to the year for its stores was overshadowed by weaker customer numbers in February and March.
The group - which has four stores in Northern Ireland selling kitchenware, bedding and rugs - saw like for like sales grow 0.6% in the 13 weeks to March 31, a slowdown compared to 1.1% in the 26 weeks to December 31.
Dunelm, which started life as a Leicester curtain stall in 1979 and now has 120 stores across the UK, said footfall was "depressed" in February and March at its predominantly out-of-town stores after a strong January.
While the group gave no explanation, the softer customer numbers come at a time when petrol prices are on the rise, breaking through the 140p-a-litre barrier for the first time last month.
But total sales growth was strengthened by the addition of new stores in Exeter and Stafford, lifting 10.7% in the third quarter compared to 8.8% in the first half, as part of a drive to increase its portfolio to a total of 200 stores.
However, despite the slowdown in like-for-like sales, the group said its financial position had not changed as it managed to increase its profit margins by 0.3% in the third quarter.
Nick Wharton, Dunelm chief executive, said: "It is prudent to remain cautious about the wider economy and, recognising its impact on consumer confidence, we will maintain our disciplined approach to the management of gross margin and operating costs.
"However with a clear growth strategy and strong pipeline of new stores ahead we remain confident in our future prospects."