JD Sports finance boss Brian Small says the retailer has lofty ambitions expand its 20-strong chain of gyms, which he describes as the retailer’s “secret weapon”.

The sportswear retailer’s chief financial officer said the gyms it currently operates are based in the in the North and the Midlands “because it’s easiest to get the right kind of property at the right price”.

“There are a lot in the Trans-Pennine corridor and a few in the West Midlands but we aspire to being national,” he said.

“It’s a business that is going well for us we regard it as a bit of secret weapon.”

Small said the retailer’s gym division was an “operator in its own right rather than being particularly related in any way to the core retail business”.

“To date it’s largely been and entrepreneurial and opportunistic endeavour. But we do believe we may be able to leverage the customer base a bit in the future,” he said.

JD Sports posted a 19% jump in interim pre-tax profits to £121.9m in the 26 weeks to August 4, spurred by a 35% spike in revenue to £1.8bn.

Although Small said the warm weather meant JD Sports’ UK like-for-like sales were flat, it has still put in a solid performance in comparison with rivals Sports Direct and Footasylum.

“There’s a consistency about JD in terms of its in terms of its investment in stores, visual merchandising prowess, its access to the best products on the brands and degree of access to exclusive products,” said Small.

“That is instilled in our consumer base – they know what we stand for and our brand relationships are very strong because we’ve been reliable and consistent.”

The retailer plans to open five stores in the US in the second half of its financial year. Small says the decision to expand its international portfolio has not been driven by Brexit but by “a drive to be a global retailer in the eyes of the brands and recognised as being the best”.

However, the UK political climate will factor into the retailer’s strategy going forward.

“As a business we hope that we will stay in the free-trading zone but before long we will need a hub in Europe in any case,” said Small.

“We are hoping for greater certainty over the Brexit future and exactly what it means sooner rather than later.”