- Revenue fell 5.1% to $215.9 million as challenging trading conditions persisted in the second half of the year; same-store sales down 2.7% to $198.6 million.
- Net loss before tax of $9.9 million down from a net profit of $2.0 million in the prior year.
- Online sales growing strongly with fourth quarter sales up 51% on the prior year following relaunch of e-commerce store.
- New chair and directors appointed adding international retail and digital expertise to the board.
- Centenary celebrations to commence in July.
National furniture and appliance retailer Smith City (NZX.SCY) today committed to accelerating the pace of transformation as it released its centennial-year results.
Group revenue for the 12 months to 30 April 2018 fell 5.1% to $215.9 million, from the prior year’s $227.4 million. Smiths City retail sales fell 4.7% to $207.9 million from $218.2 million, while same-store sales fell 2.7% to $198.6 million from $204.1 million in the prior year.
The downturn reflected a continuation of the easing in demand and intense competition in the first half of the 2018 financial year. These challenges were impacted by store refurbishments and closures, election-year trading uncertainty and in some areas an insufficient focus on our customers.
Group profits before tax fell from $2.0 million last year to a loss of $9.9 million, a larger loss than the guidance given in April. The result includes a number of one-off items including: the recognition of $4.9 million of provisions for onerous leases; a $1.5 million provision related to the Employment Court’s May ruling that Smiths City must recompense staff for pre-trading sales meetings; and a further $0.5 million of additional contractual provisions.
Chair Alastair Kerr said: “Smiths City started a programme of transformation three years ago. However, the board and management now believe the programme has not been sufficiently focussed on delivering on our goal to help our customers to Live Better. Additionally, the pace of change has not been fast enough to meet changing market conditions. The financial results we have released today have reinforced this view.
“This year three new directors offering a strong mix of expertise in governance and retailing, in New Zealand, overseas and online, joined the Smiths City board. Together with management, this new board is committed to injecting new energy and urgency into the transformation programme to make good on our customer promise.
“This year’s recognition of the $4.9 million provision for onerous leases of several underperforming stores reflects our determination to take the difficult decisions. Priorities for the year ahead and beyond include: a significant uplift in investment in the brand, technology, systems and training that will drive efficiency in the business and improve the customer experience. We will also work harder to meet customer demands and improve the customer experience in the store, online and after sale.
“Smith City has, over the hundred years it has been in business, grown thanks to the goodwill and loyalty of generations of customers, particularly in our heartland. They trust our brand as one that stands for value, integrity, honesty and fairness. We must continue to live up to these standards and ensure that the next generation grows upholding the same view.
“We continue to believe our strong reputation coupled with a national store network, a more compelling finance proposition and a strong online presence offer the company a unique opportunity. From these foundations we can build enduring customer relationships across a broad range of product offerings.
“If a customer comes to us seeking a bed we should also be offering them manchester and bedroom furnishings. If they come to us seeking a lounge suite we should also offer them cushions, a throw or other accessories. We need to sell a lifestyle.
“In short, the challenge before us, and it is a long-term challenge, is to make the most of the traffic through our stores by leveraging our strengths and by delivering continual improvements to the customer experience. We are determined to achieve this goal and this will see a return to growth and, over time, improved returns to our shareholders.”
Balance sheet and dividend
Smiths City remains well funded. As at 30 April 2018 the company had $6.2 million of cash on hand and net interest-bearing debt of $54.7 million, all of which was secured against Smith City Finance receivables
However, gearing as measured as net debt to total assets has risen to 40.4% from 31.0% at the same time a year ago. And, in contrast to recent years, and reflecting the tough trading conditions, Smiths City has recorded cash outflows of $5.8 million in the current year.
In light of these results and the need to invest in the business, the board now believes it prudent not to declare a full-year dividend. The board will continue to review its dividend policy but at present, it believes the company is unlikely to resume paying dividends in the current financial year.
Chief Executive Roy Campbell said Smiths City aimed to be a growing, profitable, and sustainable retail leader that is recognised for putting the customer at the heart of what it does.
“In the 2018 financial year, as part of our transformation programme, we continued to make several important steps toward achieving that goal. We rolled out the new live better store livery, first with our Hastings store and just before Christmas our Auckland and Whangarei stores and refined and rationalised our product offer.
“Our online channel, which we relaunched this year, is growing strongly. Internet sales in the fourth quarter are up 51% on the same period on the prior year and the rate of growth has continued to accelerate since launch. In the first month of the new financial year internet sales were up 80% on the prior year. The e-commerce site is demonstrating the advantage of pairing traditional retail channels with new digital channels.
“Customers turn to the online platform to compare prices across retailers and, after visiting the stores, use the platform as they discuss preferences and make purchases. We see plenty of potential to further develop the site in the coming year.
“These changes follow on the closure of our appliance only stores, the rationalisation of group distribution and administration centres, stock rationalisation and refreshment, merchandising improvements, and staff changes.
“However, the challenging trading conditions exposed our weaknesses and show we need to inject new energy into the programme and continue our drive towards exceeding customers’ expectations. Annual retail sales fell to $207.9 million from $218.2 million in the prior year, while we posted a trading loss in the retail business of $5.2 million. This result included costs associated with the closure of stores in Riccarton, Ngauranga Gorge and the Greymouth Clearance Centre and a change to the way the group manages the supply chain.
“As we signalled in April soft demand has led to heavy discounting, often to unsustainable levels, and the expansion of interest-free credit terms to periods rarely seen in the industry. These trends were most pronounced in Christchurch and Auckland, where we operate our largest outlets and generate a significant proportion of our total sales.
“Trading at our Auckland stores has also not met expectations. The stores are now benefitting from new management and more localised marketing support. We recognise the benefits to the group of achieving a strong presence in Auckland and are intensely focused on achieving success in the country’s largest market.
“We continue to review the broader store network. This year it became apparent – despite our significant effort – a small number of stores would never generate enough to cover the lease payments let alone generate a profit. We decided it was better to immediately recognise this in the accounts rather than letting the stores dilute the positive results elsewhere in the network. We are reviewing the future of these stores and will continue to trade them where it makes financial sense to do so.
“More positively, we have protected our margins and we have also worked hard at reducing our working capital to ensure every dollar employed in the business is working for shareholders. These initiatives have included changes to how we manage our relationship with suppliers. Inventories have meanwhile fallen to $30.2 million from $36.3 million at the same time a year ago.
“We are focussed on driving traffic to our stores and growing our revenues. The simplicity of a retail proposition – delivering customers the right products in the right environment and at the right price – belies the complexity of the task in the face of changing tastes, intense competition, and volatile economic conditions.
“Our brand and product and merchandising strategy are at the heart of meeting this challenge and it is clear we need to pick up the pace of transformation in all of these areas. While we believe the ‘live better’ brand proposition is the right one, it is clear it needs to be flexible enough to respond to local conditions.
“Smiths City must invest in the technology and systems to give us better oversight of customer demand, our merchandising programmes and drive efficiencies throughout the organisation.
“We continue to believe Smiths City Finance is at the heart of our efforts to build relationships with our customers. It makes desirable and significant purchases – a good bed, a washing machine or a dishwasher – affordable and easily available. The finance offer can make a real difference to our customers’ lifestyles,” Mr Campbell said.
Sales at Smiths City Finance were down to $8.0 million in the year to the end of April, from $9.2 million in the prior year consistent with retail sales levels. Trading profits fell to $3.4 million from $3.7 million in the prior year. In the year ahead, we continue to work towards refreshing the finance company proposition including the move to the digital origination of finance applications.
Smiths City People
“In May when the Employment Court found that we should have paid our staff for the meetings held before stores opened, it became clear we were falling short of our own values in a key area.
“In retrospect, we agree with the court. And we are complying with its order that we conduct an audit to identify any underpayments and reimburse those impacted. The audit covers all current and previous employees for the last six years and is not complete, but at this stage we have quantified the cost to Smiths will be around $1.5 million. We are working to finalise the exact figure and will move to reimburse of all affected staff progressively over the coming months as we locate those that worked for us in the past years.
“Smiths City recognises people are a core strategic enabler of our business. Going forward we will be placing considerable effort into training, staff development and promoting a culture that is focused on the customer and celebrates honesty, fairness, integrity and timely communication,” Mr Campbell said.
“Smiths City will next month celebrate 100 years of helping New Zealanders live better and we have reached that goal thanks in no small measure to our people building relationships with our customers, telling our story and working hard to make it a reality.
“In our next century we want our team to be proud to be working for us. We want them to feel valued by our organisation and convey that enthusiasm and excitement to our customers. Such an attitude will only strengthen the relationships that are critical to our success.
“We thank them all for their efforts over the last year and we are now looking at what other steps we can take to recognise the role our people play in our success.”
“The outlook for the remainder of the year remains challenging. Trading in the first two months of the year has been volatile and the housing market, a key driver of demand, remains muted despite rising housing affordability. In addition to the intense competition we are seeing spending patterns shift from consumer durables to lower cost purchases,” Mr Campbell said.
“Against this however we expect to benefit from the positive sentiment in the rural economy. We are hopeful the continued roll out of our Live Better store livery to the flagship Christchurch stores, the ongoing work to build brand awareness in the Auckland market and new initiatives to improve our operations will drive a better result in the current financial year.
“We will provide an update on trading at the company’s annual meeting in September.”
For more information contact:
About Smiths City Group Limited
Smiths City Group (NZX.SCY) was founded in Christchurch in 1918 and has a proud tradition as one of New Zealand’s oldest and largest retail chains. The company floated on the stock exchange in 1972 and operates 35 stores (including 3 clearance centres) nationwide. The group comprises Smiths City Retail, Smiths City Finance and Smiths City Commercial. On the web: www.smithscity.co.nz and www.smithcitygroup.co.nz.