Lower margins in cycling part of business means sales growth doesn't filter through to bottom line...

Halfords, Britain’s biggest bicycle retailer, has revealed that the retail side of its operations, in which cycling now makes up a third of sales, saw operating profit plunge by nearly a quarter despite a strong boost to sales on the back of Team GB’s Olympic success and Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory.

A strong performance in the smaller Autocentres side of the business failed to offset the retail decline, with group profit before tax and non-recurring items falling by 23.4 per cent to £41.9 million.

Part of the reason behind higher sales of bikes and other bike parts and accessories not translating into higher profit at group level is that according to Halfords, its cycling offer has lower margins, particularly in sale of products such as premium bikes, than other parts of the business.

In cycling, the company said that a poor start to the financial year mainly due to poor weather in the spring had been followed by a strong boost to sales due to the impact of the ‘Summer of Sport,’ with like-for-like sales – which exclude the impact of new stores and therefore give a true year-on-year comparison of trading – up 14.7 per cent in the second quarter.

The difficulties of the preceding three months, however, meant that like-for-like sales in cycling were up just 1.9 per cent for the six months as a whole.

Cycling accounted for 32.9 per cent of the retail division’s £393.0 million in sales during the period, equivalent to £129.3 million.

In a presentation accompanying its results announcement, Halfords highlighted some of the main developments on the cycling side of the business, including the unveiling of its Victoria Pendleton range, stocking of the Cinelli and Tifosi brands and launch of the latest version of its Carrera Virago with its Cycle to Work scheme-friendly £1,000 price point.

Looking forward, as well as introducing a sub-£500 Boardman range, the company is eyeing a major push next year on the parts, accessories and clothing side of the business, saying that it has recruited a new commercial team “ to aggressively drive this category.”

That will include increasing the number of items it stocks from brands including Gore, Altura, Shimano, Mavic, Knog and Sram, as well as bringing products in for the first time from companies including Campagnolo, Lezyne, Northwave, Hi5 and Adidas.

The company is also aiming to grow its share of the repair and maintenance market, of which it says it has 5 per cent share, reflecting the fact it punches below its weight there considering its clout in bike sales, where it claims to control around 14 per cent of the market.

It said that during the period, it had seen growth of 36.5 per cent in cycle repair revenue after making investment in training and other resources.

Dennis Millard, Halfords’ chairman, said: “Our Retail performance improved markedly in the second quarter after a difficult first quarter and, with a proactive trading stance, we took full advantage of the opportunities provided by the ‘summer of sport’.

“We continue to be encouraged by the performance and long-term potential of Autocentres. We also made good progress on channel and category initiatives; central to this is the priority of building a company-wide customer service ethic as well as investing in training and support for colleagues. 

“Our second-half Retail planning assumptions remain unchanged and cautious given the prevailing pressures on the consumer as we approach the important winter and Christmas trading periods. We continue to plan for a full-year Group Profit before tax and non-recurring items of between £66m and £70m.

“We have a strong platform for sustainable growth; the management team retains its focus on active trading, cash generation, prudent cost management and the delivery of strategic objectives.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.