Sixty new store openings in the six months to April, offset by seven closures, accounted for nearly all of a 5.9 per cent boost in sales during the half-year by Carpetright, the carpet and floor coverings chain in the UK and the Irish Republic.
On a like-for-like basis the gain was only 0.3 per cent, Carpetright reported yesterday in a trading update.
But it now has more stores in continental Europe than in the British Isles – 594 against 493 including 62 concessions – and there the result was distinctly stronger. Sales were up 9.1 per cent, including contributions from two new stores in the Netherlands and one in Poland, and by 3.6 per cent like for like.
The stock market responded warmly to a statement by Lord Harris of Peckham, Carpetright's chairman and chief executive that margins had improved by two per cent or more. The shares ran 25p ahead to 1183p.
"We are pleased with our overall sales performance in the UK and Republic of Ireland and we have improved gross margins by at least two per cent," Lord Harris said.
"We have continued to expand our store base and are well placed to take advantage of improving markets.
"We have continued to achieve strong growth in Belgium and the Netherlands and will open further new stores in Poland and the Netherlands in the second half, which will support the on-going growth in our market share."
Lord Harris of Peckham is the group's 29.6 per cent shareholder.
One City analyst to react favourably to the update was Christian Koefoed-Nielsen at Panmure Gordon. Carpetright had opened more new stores than expected, he said.
"We are making no changes to our forecasts, given our caution on the general consumer outlook," he added. "But the strong margin performance has more than compensated for weaker sales than we anticipated in the first half.
"The number of stores has increased by around 12 per cent since April, 2006, but since they are smaller units selling space is up six per cent over the period.
"Carpetright's strong combination of medium-term growth in the UK and Europe should imply a rating in line with other successful pan-European retailers with solid operating models, such as H&M and Inditex."
For the full year to April 27, 2007, analysts are forecasting an underlying pretax profit of about #63 million versus #62.3 million last year.
Interim results will be announced on December 12.