Mountain Warehouse hits new heights thanks to bad weather

Outdoor chain Mountain Warehouse plans to open a further 30 stores this year after inclement weather boosted demand for its waterproofs and helped sales climb 20 per cent.

Rainwear was a particular hit with Mountain Warehouse customers last year. Picture: Contributed
Rainwear was a particular hit with Mountain Warehouse customers last year. Picture: Contributed

The company, which already has 186 stores employing more than 1,200 people and selling some nine million items a year, is opening an outlet in Pitlochry next week.

In the year to the end of February, the retailer enjoyed sales of £91.7 million, up by a fifth in total and 13.1 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Operating profit grew 44 per cent to £8.2m.

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Founder and chief executive Mark Neale said it had been “a fantastic year” for the group.

“We have defied the tough economic trends that have hit the high street and shown that consumers will buy into the right offering of quality products at a competitive price,” he said.

He told The Scotsman the weather had been a key driver of growth, with the firm selling more than a million waterproofs for the first time. He is, therefore, keen to expand the chain north of the Border.

“We like Scotland,” he said. “It has the right weather for us as we obviously sell things to keep people warm and dry. We also like tourist locations and there are lots of those in Scotland.”

The group also opened a shop in Aviemore last year, while its Fort ­William outlet is a top performer despite competition from other outdoor retailers in the Highland resort.

However, Neale said it continues to be difficult to secure premises in ­“honeypot” locations.

“We finally got somewhere in Pitlochry but St Andrews and Oban are still on the list,” Neale said.

As well as the weather, Mountain Warehouse’s sales were boosted by investment in its website, which helped online sales soar by 130 per cent.

Neale said the investment was centred on incremental improvements, making the site faster and increasing the picture content and quality, and was ongoing.

But he said stores remained essential, with “a lot of life left in the high street”.

“We’ve found that our combination of ‘bricks and clicks’ has worked together to deliver sales growth. Over the next 12 months we will build on this success by opening 30 stores and by ensuring that we continue to deliver great products that represent good value to our shoppers,” he said.

The group’s optimum presence in the UK is likely to be no more than 250 stores, a total it will soon be approaching, he added. It is already upping the pace of international expansion with four more outlets opened in Poland last year.

Poland was chosenfor its weather and the popularity of outdoor pursuits, and the firm is considering expanding into other similar countries.

The London-headquartered group, which only sells its own-brand products and made its name at the cheaper end of the market, has also grown sales by adding more expensive, upmarket items to its range.

Neale, who founded the chain in 1997, owns 85 per cent of the company after he and his management team bought out private equity partner Lloyds in October.

Despite the wave of retail groups heading to the stock market this year, he said his team remain focused on their current plan and he has no plans to float the firm.

l JD Sport Fashion yesterday announced its chief executive Barry Bown is stepping down with immediate effect after 30 years with the retailer. The group, which bought a 60 per cent controlling stake in Scottish outdoor chain Tiso last year and owns Blacks and Millets, has no immediate plans to replace him.

The growth strategy at JD Sports has long been led by executive chairman Peter Cowgill.