The Society reported a trading update to members at our AGM on Monday 13th May, following a bleak report on the state of UK retail from CEO, Barry Wood. In his opening statement, he detailed the challenges ‘coming from every direction’, including discounters forcing a reduction in margins and legislation changes increasing costs, and quoted the Centre of Retail Research’s recent report; ‘2018 has been the worst year for shops since 2008, the height of the recession, and there is no reason to think 2019 will be better’.
There were a number of financial positives and areas of respectable growth for the Society, including a 6.8% increase in ‘like for like’ gross takings for their core food business, however Mr Wood admitted it may not enough to absorb the level of cost increases.
It was a similar mixed bag for our department stores, Quadrant, with gross takings falling 4.9% due to a decline in the furniture business and the loss of a number of major fashion brands over the year. Fortunately, this was mitigated by the success of our own-bought fashion, which grew 20%.
The society’s smallest businesses were the shining stars of the night, with trading profitability of Co-op Travel growing by a massive 37.6%, and by 51.11% for Co-op Funeral Directors.
Despite the difficult conditions, Chelmsford Star has continued to have a major positive impact across the county having been independently awarded the title ‘Best in the Community’ at a major national awards ceremony last year. In addition to a wide range of initiatives, from litter-picking events to supporting local groups, schools and organisations, Chelmsford Star also donated over £61,000 to their charity of the year, Alzheimer’s Society, raised following substantial effort from colleagues and customers.
The Society continues to keep members happy too, with customer service rated at 100% in our travel team, 98.5% by funeral clients and 95.3% from those using our department stores. Recent mystery shoppers rated the society’s 40 food stores with an average satisfaction level of 94%. And at a time where environmental issues are at the forefront of people’s minds, they we announced 99.7% of all waste that the society produced was recycled.
Despite these excellent credentials, the combination of squeezed sales margins and relentless cost increases meant overall trading profit for the year fell by 18%. However, Chelmsford Star continues to dedicate all it can to support Essex, and we promised that 30p in every £1 spent in our stores across the year will be reinvested back into our local economy and communities in some way. ‘That is’, they reminded members, ‘the co-operative difference’.
Full details of the audited figures and annual report are available in the Chelmsford Quadrant by clicking here.