Belfast Telegraph

Mind the Gap warning as SuperGroup grows

By Margaret Canning

Pester power is paying off for the fashion retailers which have lodged themselves in the consciousness of young teenagers.

Few are the parents or aunts and uncles who avoided long queues in Hollister this Christmas, looking for hoodies and checked shirts for presents for the youngsters in their lives.

Hollister, which is part of Abercrombie and Fitch and has a shop in Belfast's Victoria Square, has successfully won the hearts and minds of 11-year-olds and up, partly by making their shops a desirable, darkly-lit and perfumed destination.

But snapping at Hollister's heels in the popularity stakes is the fashion firm SuperGroup, which also owns the brands SurfCo and 77Breed. It has no self-titled stand-alone stores in Northern Ireland - though it does operate from Cult on Belfast's Royal Avenue - but it can't be long until the hip label comes a-knocking on the doors of property agents in the region.

In a performance which will be the envy of other fashion retailers, SuperGroup's retail sales jumped 93.6% to £51.7m in the nine weeks to January 2. And in a coup which contrasts with the bad City news for most other big retail players, Supergroup is now saying its full-year profits will be at the top-end of market expectations.

And even more enviably, it claims to be able to offset the impact of rising raw material costs after renegotiating with suppliers.

The business started humbly enough with a market stall in Gloucestershire in the late 1980s but a decision to float nearly one third of the business last year triggered a windfall for directors, including founder Julian Dunkerton. It also gave the company the boast of having one of the most successful initial public offerings of the year.

In response to the latest results, Mr Dunkerton said: "This performance demonstrates the strength of our brand and the loyalty of our customers."

SuperGroup's happy Christmas will be welcome news to those who were somewhat spooked by Mr Dunkerton's own fears a few months ago about the impact of rising cotton prices, which were once so heightened that the firm was briefly dubbed 'SuperDroop'.

It now seems that the sky's the limit for SuperGroup -could its international appeal be strong enough to make it the British answer to Gap? If teenage tastes are any indicator, SuperGroup could be en route to the same retail ubiquity.