It should be a statement of the obvious that selling more stuff but not making any more money out of it is no strategy for retailing. Yet in the relentless vanity-driven obsession with market share and like-for-like growth, the basics of making money sometimes get forgotten.

It should be a statement of the obvious that selling more stuff but not making any more money out of it is no strategy for retailing. Yet in the relentless vanity-driven obsession with market share and like-for-like growth, the basics of making money sometimes get forgotten.

As Kate Swann has shown at WHSmith, being willing to sacrifice sales can sometimes be the right way of growing profitability. It’s not always great in PR terms when sales go down, but Swann doesn’t care and shareholders love her for it because she’s making them more money.

Debenhams is a more recent convert to managing the mix to focus on profit, taking space off brands and giving them over to more profitable own-brand lines even though it will lead to a sales hit. It is a strategy that appears likely to deliver results.

Some categories will always offer lower margin than others and relying on own labels isn’t always an option for many retailers in, say, electricals and fashion where customers want big name brands. For department stores, brands will always have a role as a footfall driver. But if you can make your own-bought product as desirable as many brands - as Debenhams has done with its Designers ranges, and by buying Principles and now Faith - that can be a neat solution.

Sales-led recovery stories are fine but ultimately working hard to sell products that you make no money from is a zero-sum game. At a time when customers are unlikely to be buying much more in terms of volume, careful management of margin and making gains wherever possible is going to be the key to growing profitability. For many, private label is going to be key to that success.

Academy leads the way

At a time when 70 graduates are reportedly chasing every job, Tuesday’s graduation ceremony at the Fashion Retail Academy was an uplifting occasion. Not just for the enthusiasm of the students, nor for the backing of its retail supporters led by Sir Philip Green and Sir Stuart Rose.

What’s really impressive is that it is helping retailers find the talent they need while helping young people get into employment - 60% of this year’s graduates have already secured roles. If David Cameron has any sense, he’ll help Green with his ambition of opening more of the academies elsewhere in the country, but it will need those fashion retailers that don’t back the Academy to come on board too.