Faith ventures overseas with move to Middle East

Shoe retailer Faith has set foot in the Middle East as it continues to increase store numbers, despite a floundering management buy-out.

In its first overseas venture, Faith has opened four franchise shops - in Dubai, Riyadh and two in Kuwait - with franchise operator Alshaya.

Faith operations director Paul O'Neill said there could be a total of 28 stores in the region and is considering other international markets, such as Ireland, Sweden and Iceland. 'There's no reason why we can't be a global brand,' he said.

The news follows a surge in pre-tax profits for the year to June 28 last year, to£3.9 million from£2.6 million the year before. Sales fell to£69.9 million from£72.6 million, caused mainly by the closure of 244 Faith concessions in Arcadia stores.

O'Neill admitted there were strategic issues to resolve, such as improving the supply chain and increasing margins. He also confirmed that poor Christmas trading had stalled the proposed£55 million MBO, likely to be funded by venture capitalist Bridgepoint.

'Christmas was tough, as it was for most retailers, but we've moved back into positive like-for-likes,' he said. Bridgepoint is understood to be waiting until the retailer issues its results for the year to June before backing an offer.

Meanwhile, O'Neill said the focus is on opening stores, and is targeting 70 standalones by the end of the year. There are 160 Faith outlets, including 60 standalones.

Former River Island head of footwear Mel Serpen has joined as buying director, the first time that Faith has dedicated a board position to the role.