Outdoor retailer Mountain Warehouse has booked record profits as it pushes ahead with a store expansion that will create 400 jobs.
The group said pre-tax profits jumped by 22 per cent to £19.8 million for the year to February, while sales surged 30.8 per cent to £184.8m.
Like-for-like sales climbed by 16.5 per cent over the period, but the rate of growth eased from the 19.3 per cent seen in 2016.
Mountain Warehouse plans to open 40 more stores this year creating hundreds of jobs, with around half the outlets being launched outside the UK.
Unlike some retailers on the high street, he said the firm had managed to shield customers from Brexit-induced price rises thanks to currency hedging and favourable prices from suppliers in China.
He added: “In previous downturns we have benefited potentially from people being on bit more of a budget and shopping with us when they would have shopped at more expensive brands.”
Neale said he did not buy into the notion that the high street was dying, adding: “Right now, we are in discussion on two Brantano stores because they went bust a few weeks ago.
“Everyone says ‘doom and gloom Brantano are going bust’, but two new Mountain Warehouse stores are going to open as a result and will create new jobs.”
The firm, which employs 2,600 staff, said international sales doubled for the year, while online sales pushed 50.6 per cent higher.
It said it was eyeing opportunities in Czech Republic and Germany following a hefty expansion into Poland, where it has 15 stores.
The move will leave it with 62 overseas stores by the end of the current financial year, with the aim of having 300 UK stores and 300 international outlets. The firm currently has around 265 stores.
The expansion drive comes as Mountain Warehouse marks 20 years since Neale opened the first shop in Swindon.
Asked whether he considered taking back seat role after two decades at the top, he said: “I don’t think so. Maybe in the future, but I’m either in or out. I would find it very difficult.”
On the growth of the business, he added: “My aspirations when I opened my first shop was just to keep going to the next week. We were very short of cash quite often.
“There was a period when I would come in in the morning and we would work out how much money we took yesterday and who we were going to pay to stop the creditors ringing.
“After ten years we eventually established a business model based around own-brand products, which were higher margin and offered a better price for customers, and the business became quite profitable quite quickly at that point”.
He said plans to take the business public were now “very much in the long grass” after rolling back a proposed stock market flotation last year.
The retailer’s sister brand Zakti, which sells sports and gym clothing, will also open two more stores this year.