Brown Thomas sales up by 11% and profits by more than 60%

Rise in 2015 due to cost control, a €34m investment over three years and online sales

Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas: “Our business is only about level with last year. But it’s all to play for in the run-up to Christmas.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas: “Our business is only about level with last year. But it’s all to play for in the run-up to Christmas.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Upmarket Irish fashion retailer Brown Thomas enjoyed a bumper 2015 with sales rising by 11 per cent and underlying profit increasing by more than 60 per cent.

Latest accounts for Brown Thomas & Co Ltd show it achieved turnover of €172.5 million in 2015, up from €155.4 million a year earlier.

Profit after tax rose to €15.6 million from €11.3 million in 2014. When once-off exceptional items are excluded from the figures, the like-for-like lift was more than 60 per cent.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Brown Thomas managing director Stephen Sealey said the strong performance was the result of tight cost control, a €34 million investment over the past three years in the business, and strong growth in online sales.

Sales at its flagship Grafton Street store rose by 15 per cent while online revenues increased by 134 per cent, albeit off a modest base.

“That was very pleasing,” Mr Sealey said. “We’ve just launched our new website, and additional features will be added after Christmas. It’s a much faster experience and fully mobile optimised.”

Online accounts for about 1.5 per cent of total sales but this rises to 8 per cent for beauty products.

Mr Sealey said Brown Thomas has achieved “good reach” for its online sales into Donegal, where it doesn’t have a store, while some shoppers have cited disruption caused by Luas works to Dublin’s traffic as a reason for shopping on the web.

‘Iffy’ year for retail

On current trading, Mr Sealey said 2016 has been an “iffy” year for retail.

“Our business is only about level with last year. But it’s all to play for in the run-up to Christmas and hopefully we’ll improve that. Brexit is a worry, not immediate but a cloud on the horizon.”

He said spending by British tourists was down but that sales to visitors from the US and Middle East had risen. Some 20 per cent of Brown Thomas’s business is based around the 24 days leading up to Christmas.

Commenting on the Brown Thomas results, Paul Kelly, managing director of its parent company, the Selfridges Group, said: “The significant investment programme over the past number of years sets up the business for what promises to be a challenging retail environment.”

Brown Thomas has extensively remodelled its second floor fashion department in the Grafton Street store. A new café is also set to open on this floor, operated by chef Johnny Cooke.

“We’ll also open an accessory room for men just before Christmas, and there’ll be further investment in online and IT,” Mr Sealey said.

College Green planning

He welcomed the recent decision by Dublin City Council to submit its proposed €6 million pedestrian and cycle plaza at College Green to An Bord Pleanála for approval. The scheme would limit private car traffic in the area and has been opposed by a number of city centre retailers, including Brown Thomas.

“About 40 per cent of our sales are to customers who come in by car,” Mr Sealey said. “For me, what’s important is that we maintain easy and direct access to our [365-space] car park.

“I do see it as a threat to the business and I’m glad that it’s gone for proper planning.”

He said a legal challenge to the plan would have been a “last resort but we did think the council weren’t taking the correct route to this and it was important to flag that up”.

Brown Thomas added 84 staff last year with its payroll costs rising by €4 million to €37.3 million.