Joules feels slight chill, UK tough, but US wholesale rises
today Dec 5, 2019
Joules is a regular outperformer in a UK fashion retail market that has few of those at the moment. So it was no surprise that its pre-close trading update on Thursday morning talked of “retail growth and improved retail gross margin, despite challenging trading conditions”.
But as that statement suggests, the company is facing the same fundamental challenges that all of its retail peers are. And while its first half (the six months to the end of November) saw what it called "a robust performance”, that still translated into revenue growth of only 1.3% year-on-year. Admittedly, with Black Friday coming a week later this year, some Black Friday-linked sales could fall in December (the start of the second half), so that could have held sales back a bit.
Not that the company is embracing markdowns. The firm’s Retail division revenue rose a healthier 3.1% with an improved gross margin rate, “as a result of a disciplined approach to promotional activity”, it told us. The retailer also said this revenue performance “was driven by strong e-commerce growth that was supported by our distinctive product offer, enhancements to the customer proposition and continued growth in our active customer base”.
Overall, customers “have continued to respond well” to its product offer but it said September was challenging, although since then, it’s “seen positive trading momentum across [its] own e-commerce and store channels, with revenue up by over 9%”.
And on the back of this positive performance, the group is opening four new stores before Christmas, “in desirable locations and on attractive terms”.
So given that its own retail ops were quite strong, how come overall revenue grew so little? Well, the company said wholesale revenue fell by 3.8%, but this reflected the conversion of some of its larger accounts to retail concessions last year as well as “the continued challenging UK trading environment”.
Pleasingly, international revenue continued to grow and now makes up around 17% of its total, up from 15.8% a year ago. It’s seen continued growth of its US wholesale business and “very strong growth” across its international e-commerce markets.
It also said the September launch of its Friends of Joules curated digital marketplace for third-party sellers on its website has seen “a really positive early customer response”.
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