Home shopping group Findel has revealed robust trading figures for its retail businesses in the first half of the year following a troubled period for the group.

In its post-close trading statement, the group said its largest business, Express Gifts, had experienced an 18% increase in sales in the 26 weeks to September 28.

Findel attributed the increase in sales to “keener pricing and promotions”. However, gross margin declined as a result.

Findel chief executive Roger Siddle told Retail Week that Express Gifts’ return to growth in the last 18 months has put it in a strong position to negotiate with suppliers, an area it had struggled with in the past.

“A couple of years ago, Findel as a group was in financial distress, including Express Gifts,” he said. “We had great trouble with our supply chain in terms of paying suppliers and getting products. Over a year and a half period, we have turned that around completely and we are now a very good customer for our suppliers.

“Express Gifts is in a very good position to discuss with its suppliers what ranges it is going to carry, what prices it is going to pay and the terms. We have also revamped our Far East buying operation and they have done a lot in sourcing new suppliers.”

Sales at Kitbag, the group’s sports retail business, increased 11.1% in the period.  Siddle said that the administration of JJB Sports on Monday “changes the dynamic” of the sports retail sector.  Sports Direct picked up 20 JJB shops after the administration.

“In one sense, it removes a competitor,” he said. “On another hand, Sports Direct is a pretty impressive competitor already.”

Peel Hunt John Stevenson analyst said Express Gifts’ “strong performance” was “underpinned by a radical overhaul of the entire offer by the new management team”.

Stevenson added that it expects Kitbag to be back in profitability by 2014.

Group sales during the first half were up 7.9%.

Findel’s core bank debt and the overall net debt had reduced compared with the previous year. The retailer’s bad debt rates remain stable, the group said.