Big ticket and DIY retailers bemoaned lukewarm trading over Easter and the May bank holiday this year amid “tough” market conditions.
Bathstore boss Gary Favell told Retail Week that, while the May bank holiday exceeded his expectations, conditions are “still pretty tough in big ticket”.
“We got to where we wanted it to be number wise, but it was not spectacular,” he said.
Favell pointed to a sector-wide slowdown since the Brexit vote but is confident the business is well set up to weather the storm.
“We are one of the few big-ticket retailers in growth mode,” he added.
“I think we’ve just got to live with it until the noise about the election dies down.”
A silver lining
However, drizzly weather over the double bank holiday period – historically the sales equivalent of Christmas for big ticket and DIY retailers – provided a silver lining for some.
Following a pre-close update last week, Carpetright chief executive Wilf Walsh told Retail Week he was “quite happy” with sales over the two weeks of Easter, particularly at its newly refurbished stores.
“Both the date of Easter and the weather was more favourable than last year, which hasn’t done us any harm,” Walsh said.
However, he acknowleded “continued uncertainty” and a drop off in retail park footfall over recent months.
Tapi boss Martin Harris also claimed “kind weather conditions” contributed to buoyant bank holiday trading at his fledgling carpet retailer.
The Tapi boss, whose business has gone head to head with Carpetright – the firm his father founded, denied sensing a decline in consumer confidence during the holiday, but pointed to a “slowdown” in both January and March.
A challenging year
Topps Tiles also endured “pretty tough market conditions” throughout the start of 2017, but its boss Matthew Williams said the outlook began to improve at the end of March.
The retailer, which tends to notice a bump in sales in the weeks preceding holidays such as Easter and Christmas, as home owners ready their houses for guests, said dwindling consumer confidence and a slowdown in housing transactions this year have impacted its like-for-likes.
Williams said: “The adage that ‘if people don’t move they improve’ is true, but the reality is if they have not moved they just don’t do as much.”
He suspects other DIY retailers, such as B&Q, which for now remains tight lipped on its Easter trading, will have felt the impact of the “tough” market conditions too.
Harris warned that, on average, a general election takes around 10% off the table for big ticket retailers.
But, given June’s snap election is far from average, and the British have recently become more accustomed to visiting the polls, the Tapi boss is confident the vote won’t significantly temper trading.
Carpetright’s Walsh, like Bathstore’s Favel, is more cautious, however: “There’s nothing like the uncertainty of another general election to add to the uncertainty that’s already out there,” he said.
But he is confident that by “sticking with the knitting”, the company won’t be steered off course by external factors.