Sales remain ‘resilient’ as lifestyle retailer helps out staff with cost-of-living payments
Sales at Oliver Bonas have remained “resilient” despite the cost-of-living crisis as the lifestyle retailer celebrated its 30th anniversary with a rise in pre-tax profits to £9.1million – and employees received extra payments.
The results filed at Companies House on Friday, 22 September, on showed the retailer has opened eight new stores, drastically increased the size of two others, as well as expanding office and warehouse space across three locations in the year to 31 December 2022.
The selection of fashion, homeware, furniture, gifts, stationery and wide range of greeting cards now spreads across its 79 stores and website in the UK and one in Ireland, as well as an online presence in the US, as well as featuring on the Next marketplace.
After tax, profits for the year were £7.6m, up from 2021’s £5.6m, with directors Timothy Hollidge and Oliver Tress taking the same £990,000 dividend between them as the previous year.
Founder Olly told PG earlier this year that “after a bit of tending” greeting card sales are almost back to 2019 levels of around 1.5m per year in the retail chain, having taken a bit of a back seat during the pandemic when the company latched on to the growing appetite for homewares.
Back in the early days Olly – who can be seen in the video below with greeting cards and some of the Greats gift retailer awards won by the business – would meet with London card agents, including Niall Robson and Fiona Lychenhan, to make his own greeting card selection and decide on the quantities: “They would tell me that I’d not ordered the bestsellers, but I thought I knew what would sell. I was a total pain in the neck and, of course, learned to listen to them!”
Now, with the benefit of technology and a strong buying team including card buyer Lucy Cornwall reporting to head of home and gift buying Kate Salmon, Olly stays away from the greeting card selection process, but does retain a close interest in the bestsellers, the top rankers reflecting societal tastes and values.
One of the retailer’s bestselling card designs has been in the top ranking for four years since Olly revealed it at the GCA AGM in 2019 describing it as a “mixture of philosophy, psychology and great sentiment” before holding up the Lucy Maggie Designs simple graphic with the message “Shake your tits, it’s your birthday”.
On the human side of the business, the rise in energy prices saw Oliver Bonas make a cost-of-living payment to all permanent employees across a five-month period as well as increasing pension contributions based on length of service, and making enhancements to family-friendly policies.
And the report stated: “Our Joy Of Work team member survey results demonstrated the high levels of engagement and motivation across the business with 85% of respondents saying they are motivated and happy to work at OB.”
And the retailer, where “kindness is core brand value” ran a campaign to support Fareshare, which redistributes surplus food to charities and community groups, over the Black Friday period in November where for every transaction made it donated the equivalent of one redistributed meal giving the equivalent of 100,000 meals.
The year also saw the launch of the Oliver Bonas inclusion calendar, providing an educational resource for all staff to learn about feast and festival days as well as cultural dates of importance.
Utilising data provided by the workforce, the company was able to cover all faiths its team align with and created resources on everything from Ramadan to Chotrul Duchen, Diwali to All Souls’ Day, Yom Kippur to Mar Nanakshahi as well as featuring resources on Pride month, Black History Month and World Menopause Day.
The strategic report revealed all the new stores have “performed well” and are exceeding return on investment criteria, adding that sales overall “remained resilient and the company managed to record positive like-for-like sales growth for the year and turnover and profits before tax increased by 23% and 21% respectfully”.
Explaining that product development is a great risk as, despite the many checks, the company “cannot be certain of their success”, its other issue is economic risk and inflation.
The report said high energy prices and the highest food inflation since records began “have impacted the UK consumer’s disposable income markedly”, but the directors believe “looking forward things are slightly brighter”, with the plan to continue its store opening programme through a mix of new shops and relocations, while also focusing on the websites and the user experience.