Smiggle profits rocket, but boss laments ‘ghost towns’

Smiggle CEO John Cheston
Smiggle CEO John Cheston

Australian stationery retailer Smiggle reported soaring UK sales and profits last year, but the group’s chief executive has bemoaned the wider turmoil on Britain’s high streets for creating “ghost towns”.

The company’s British arm posted a 92% increase in revenues to £55.7 million in the year to July 2017, according to accounts filed at Companies House.

Pre-tax profit rose from £3.8m to £10.8m, with Smiggle’s group MD John Cheston lauding the firm’s online performance.

“We’ve seen incredible growth online, something we didn’t anticipate, which has been driving sales,” he said.

“It’s not easy, we’ve had to work bloody hard.”

The group - which opened a two-floor Oxford Street flagship store this month and bills itself as the “ultimate creator of colourful, fun, fashion-forward stationery” - has around 130 UK outlets.

It had been targeting 200 stores as part of efforts to hit AUS$200m (£112m) in revenue by 2019, but Mr Cheston said Smiggle may now not need that many, partly because of the growth of online.

He also flagged the recent spate of store closures on Britain’s high streets through Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVA), a form of insolvency that allows retailers to shut loss-making outlets.

“CVAs are creating ghost towns, there is a real sentiment issue in UK retail, you have Brexit, macro issues and political uncertainty,” he added