Apr 27, 2010
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N Brown eyes U.S. launch; full year beats view

Apr 27, 2010

By James Davey

LONDON, April 27 (Reuters) - British home shopping group N Brown (BWNG.L) said it would launch in the potentially lucrative U.S. market in July as it beat forecasts with a 13 percent rise in year profit and raised its dividend.

Chief Executive Alan White said the firm, which targets older and larger shoppers, will launch a U.S. website for its Simply Be brand in July before sending out 1 million 48-page catalogues to targeted potential customers in August.

"The key will be how quickly we can build that customer base up," he told Reuters.

"The outsize market in the U.S. is worth $35 billion (a year), so if we could even get a slither of that it would be very nice to have."

The U.S trial, which is costing N Brown less than 1 million pounds ($1.55 million), follows a successful trial in Germany.

"Simply Be targets fashion for the larger sizes for a woman in her thirties. In both Germany and the U.S. nobody else was doing that," said White.

Shares in N Brown, up 12 percent over the last month, were up 3.2 percent at 260.6 pence at 0828 GMT, valuing the business at 707 million pounds.

N Brown "is well positioned with limited competition in the outsize market to take advantage of changing demographics," said Kate Calvert, analyst at Shore Capital.

Manchester, northern England-based N Brown made an underlying pretax profit of 93.1 million pounds for the year to Feb. 28.

That compares with a consensus forecast of 88.6 million pounds in a company poll of 15 analysts, and 82.7 million pounds in the previous year.

N Brown fared better than most British retailers during the recession, helped by its position in the market. Its customers, with an average age of 57, tend to have stable incomes.

Turnover at the firm, whose other brands include Oxendales, Marisota and Jacamo, increased 4.2 percent to 690 million pounds, with 39 percent of sales generated over the Internet.

Like-for-like sales for the eight weeks to April 24 were up 3.1 percent, and there was an improving trend in bad debtors.

N Brown raised its dividend 17.4 percent to 10.79 pence and said it was confident of another good performance in 2010.

Like most British retailers, White is wary that moves to reduce government debt after the May 6 general election could hit consumer spending.

"The economy is picking up, however slowly ... Does that pick-up in the economy balance out the negatives that might come from the increase in taxation and public spending cuts?"

"We're hoping that it does and therefore we've got at least a neutral position to go at," he said.

Separately on Tuesday 27 April, British homewares retailer Dunelm (DNLM.L) said its trading picked up over Easter.

($1=.6469 Pound) (Editing by Rhys Jones and Simon Jessop)

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