Not all is woe on the high street, with three top retailers doing particularly well, it was revealed yesterday.
Dunelm, the home furnishings retailer, reported a robust first half sales performance along with better margins, bucking the weak sector trend. The group, which floated in October 2006, also issued a confident outlook statement.
Midlands-based, it has outlets in Birmingham, Oldbury and Wolverhampton. For the 26 weeks to December 29 the group's total sales increased 10.6 per cent to £197.4 million, while sales on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the impact of new and closed space, increased 4.9 per cent.
Dunelm said its first half gross margin is expected to have been approximately 80 basis points higher than during the equivalent period last year, reflecting a stable pricing environment and continuing sourcing gains primarily due to volume increases.
The retailer said operating costs were tightly controlled during the period.
"We are delighted to have maintained such a strong like-for-like sales performance during a period when we estimate the homewares market has shown little or no growth," said chief executive Will Adderley, whose family founded Dunelm as a market store business in 1979 and still own 67 per cent of the equity.
"With all that has been said and written about a slowdown in the consumer economy, we naturally approach the next few months with caution. Having said that, we feel our exposure is limited by our relatively low transaction values - our shoppers on average spend under £30 on each visit."
First half results will be published on February 27.
The company's portfolio includes 73 superstores, with the board committed to a medium term target of at least 150.
Department store chain House of Fraser also delivered good news from the high street after posting strong festive trading figures.
Like-for-like sales for the five weeks to January 3 were up 2.4 per cent on the same period last year despite a "tough trading environment".
Margins were also up at the privately-owned group, which operates 61 stores across the UK, thanks to a reduction in the number of sales days.
HoF was bought for £351 million in November 2006 by the Baugur-led consortium Highland Acquisitions.
The new management team has targeted a more upmarket customer as part of an image overhaul, throwing out 140 underperforming brands and bringing in new ones such as Jaeger.
Chairman Don McCarthy said: "The strong Christmas trading period has been a superb end to effectively our first year in control of House of Fraser."
As well as gross profit being up on the same time last year, stock levels were also 20 per cent lower at the end of the period.
Mr McCarthy said the group's borrowings were £110 million less than expected, while it has also started a refit programme in 15 stores.
Like-for-like sales at rival John Lewis - which has a flagship store at the Touchwood Centre at Solihull - rose 6.2 per cent for the five weeks to January 5.
Waitrose was up 4.1 per cent excluding petrol.
Total sales for Waitrose were ahead 6.1 per cent, again excluding petrol, and up 7.6 per cent at John Lewis.
The Partnership will announce full year results for the 2007-08 trading year on March 6.