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Harry Corry back in black after boom in online buying

By John Mulgrew

Harry Corry has returned to profits of more than £1m, just a year after it posted losses and entered into an agreement to pay part of its debts to creditors.

Boss Willie Corry told the Belfast Telegraph that an agreed reduction in the rent the firm pays for its shops, a boost in online sales and an improved retail landscape helped the company to turn its fortunes around.

The business posted pre-tax profits of £1.18m for the year to the end of February 2016, a major turnaround from a loss of £653,000 a year earlier.

Turnover, meanwhile, increased from £40.16m to £41.3m during the same period.

"It's paying market rents which has made a difference," Mr Corry said.

"Obviously, things have improved slightly, and that was a help. We didn't lose any shops, and that helped keep turnover up. The main thing was the market rents, and we have also been doing a lot of training in the past two or three years, and that is paying off."

Mr Corry revealed the average sale had also increased, while online buying is up by as much as 40% in the space of a year.

This has been achieved without cutting any staff.

The current company accounts show the firm employed an average of 597 workers, up by one employee on the same period a year earlier.

"If you take the online, which has improved, it's the equivalent of one good shop," Mr Corry said. "It is up about 40% on last year. We also get people who come online and then go to the shops.

"People like to touch and feel and see (the products). They might buy online and then collect in store."

Harry Corry operates 50 stores across the UK and Ireland - 17 are in Northern Ireland, 22 in the Republic and the other 11 in Scotland.

Looking forward, Mr Corry said the plan was to "keep momentum and hopefully make the same sort of profit" this year.

Earlier this year, the firm revealed that sales at its Boucher Road store had plummeted by a third after the closure of the neighbouring B&Q store left restricted access to the business.

Mr Corry has said the company is trying to plan and develop better access to the south Belfast store.

There now plans to alter the road structure to allow greater traffic to Harry Corry and Benson for Beds.

The Belfast Telegraph reported earlier this year that a planning design statement for the project said: "B&Q have cited insurance reasons as the grounds upon which to close its main access off Balmoral Road.

"We are trying to get better access, and that's with planning and we are hoping that comes through."

In the latest accounts, the business said its objectives were to "increase the sales of the company and to improve gross profit by refining and developing the branch format and the online format by investing in staff training".

Harry Corry said increased basket size - the amount spent by customers - has "meant that the company has experienced an increase in turnover of 2.8%".

Speaking about entering into its company voluntary arrangement (CVA), it said "the company has returned to profit due to management actions in cost control and the reduction in rents as a result of the CVA process".

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