Belfast Telegraph

B&M profits boosted 19.5% to £161.4m amid rapid expansion

Discount retailer B&M saw annual pre-tax profits surge by a fifth as a record number of store openings helped offset slowing sales growth.

The Liverpool-based chain - which is chaired by former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy - now has more than 500 UK stores after rapid expansion and said it was eyeing another 50 new British outlets over the year ahead.

It posted a 19.5% rise in underlying pre-tax profits to £161.4 million for the year to March 26.

A move to grow its estate by 74 stores on a net basis - those opened less those closed - offset a sharp slowdown in sales growth, with like-for-like sales up 0.3% against the 4.4% rise seen in the previous year as it suffered amid competition and falling prices in the grocery sector.

It added that sales were also hit due to "cannibalisation" as trade in some existing stores was impacted by nearby B&M openings.

Sir Terry hailed "another year of strong progress".

The group, which is largely based across the north of England, is now setting its sights on expanding further across the UK, with aims to grow to 850 stores.

It has earmarked " at least 350 suitable catchments" across the UK, which do not currently have a B&M store.

Chief executive Simon Arora said: "In the UK there are many locations where we don't currently trade, but would like to."

The group's German chain Jawoll, which it bought in 2014, is also growing at pace, with 56 stores at the year-end.

B&M said it had also made a "solid start" to the new financial year despite ongoing fierce competition in the supermarket sector.

Shares in the group rose 2% after the results, with analysts at Liberum cheering a "very strong" set of figures.

B&M listed on the London stock exchange almost two years ago.

It is understood to have been among firms interested in bidding for parts of collapsed store chain BHS, but is said to have since pulled out of the running.

B&M was formed in 1978 and opened its first shop in Blackpool.

Mr Arora told the Press Association B&M was interested in buying a "handful" of BHS stores, but has never looked at bidding for the entire business.

He added: "For us, it's a case of waiting and seeing what happens.

"If the administrators sell the business in its entirety, then that's a great outcome for all the people that work there."

B&M's ambitious store opening programme will see the group create around 4,000 jobs over the next two years, with 50 openings planned each year.

The group is hoping to expand further across the south and south west of England.

Mr Arora said: "Early indications are that people in Southampton enjoy a bargain as much as those in Northampton."

He said the retail sector is likely to remain under pressure over the year ahead, but discounters will continue to gain market share.

"The conditions are reflective of the fact that the UK consumer remains as price savvy as ever," he said.

"The retailers focused on value for money are those continuing to gain market share."