Tight margins in the high street have taken their toll of profits at Tony Wilkinson’s famous discount Wilkinson Hardware stores. A 4.5 per cent increase in customers numbers and turnover up from £1.36 million to £1.44 million hasn’t stopped a £17 million drop in operating profits.

Operating profit in the year to January 2009 was £31.6 million compared to £48.8 million the previous year.

But the East Midlands-based firm has a strong balance sheet and is probably worth close to £200 million.

Tony Wilkinson’s father opened his first store in Leicester in 1930. Now 79 years later Wilkinson has more than 320 stores around the country and continues to expand.

Recent store openings include Newton Aycliffe, Barnstaple, Bognor Regis, St Austell, Lowestoft and Walthamstow.

Wilkinson’s value-for-money principals have resulted in one of the UK’s most successful chains of hardware and convenience stores, with more than four million people visiting a Wilkinson store every week.

Since its formation the company has expanded its range to cover clothing, confectionery, toiletries, perfumes, DVDs and toys, with many of its offerings under its own Wilko brand name.

The firm’s founder, JK Wilkinson died in 1997, and his son Tony Wilkinson, now 72, has retired. The business is now run by the grand-daughters of its founder, Karin Swann and Lisa Wilkinson.

The company has its headquarters and a distribution centre in Manton Wood, Nottinghamshire and has a second distribution centre in Magor, South Wales.

Wilkinsons plans to have more than 500 stores in the UK by 2012, turning over £3 billion, and its store openings continue apace..

The company and its employees are encouraged to support local communities and in the past year more than £870,000 has been donated to charity and community projects.