Greetings cards retailer Clinton Cards has installed a new boss at Birthdays after struggling to integrate the chain that it acquired 18 months ago.

Clinton, which has 748 stores under its own name and 458 sites trading as Birthdays, yesterday announced that Stuart McKay was retiring with immediate effect and would be replaced by the director in charge of managing its property portfolio.

The appointment of Stuart Houlston comes after savings from the Birthdays deal were delayed due to problems in the supply chain, although Clinton said these were now resolved.

Clinton paid £46.4 million for its biggest rival on the high street just before the down-turn in consumer spending in the UK sent sales and profits into reverse.

Announcing results for the 52 weeks to January 29, Clinton said profits were sharply lower at £4.2 million compared with a haul of £33.7 million a year ago.

Chairman Don Lewin said profits from Clinton Cards stores fell by a third to £18.4 million in the period, while Birthdays racked up operating losses of £9.9 million.

The high level of debt in the business meant that swings in the amount of money it took at the tills had a relatively large impact on its earnings, Mr Lewin added.

"The trading environment remains difficult making it hard to predict future trading with any degree of certainty," he said.

"In view of this, particular attention has been paid to reducing costs where appropriate, both in store and centrally.

"These cost reductions together with better product margins will help offset the rising occupancy and staff costs which we are experiencing in the current year."

The company has around 150 Clinton and Birthday stores in total across the Midlands.

Clinton said changes made at Birthdays were starting to come through in terms of sales - up 2.2 per cent on a like- for-like basis in the 12 weeks to April 23 compared with growth of 1.4 per cent over the previous 12 months.

The rate of decline in sales at Clinton Cards was also slowing down with a fall of 1.5 per cent over the past 12 weeks contrasting with a 2.7 per cent drop during the year under review.

Plans for Birthdays over the next 12 months include moving more tills to the front of stores, introducing cheaper ranges and creating an electronic order system with its suppliers.

Managing director Clinton Lewin said the market was still tough in the high street.

He said: "Clearly what we have to do in these difficult times is to continue to work to improve the value, quality and standard of our offering.

"What was good enough 12 months ago is not necessarily good enough now."

The business would continue to work towards new lines, he said.

More stores are set to be sold off after Clinton disposed of 80 of the 488 branches that it acquired in the Birthdays deal in December 2004.

Bosses expect to have 410 Birthdays and 720 Clinton outlets by the end of this year.