CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER'S REPORT
UP 11.4% to
(2022: R18.5 billion)
‘We are confident that our business model will continue to show its resilience as we enter what is expected to be another challenging year for our customers.’
Chief Executive Officer
THE GROUP HAS AGAIN PRODUCED SECTOR-LEADING FINANCIAL AND OPERATING RESULTS IN ACHIEVING OR EXCEEDING ITS SIX MEDIUM-TERM TARGETS, WITH RETURN METRICS BEING BEST-IN-CLASS RELATIVE TO MAJOR LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL PEERS.
We delivered a solid performance for the 2023 financial period, guided by our Business Philosophy to ensure that we manage the Group for longer-term wealth creation. The decisions we make and strategies we adopt are aimed at fulfilling the purpose of our Business Philosophy and creating value over time.
We have been prudent in our acquisition strategy, not wanting to overpay for assets, and acquired the Barrie Cline and Bonwit design centres to bolster our in-house design capabilities.
Our market-leading brand portfolio has been expanded through the launch of new brands Fuel and Sync, while we have developed several new formats including Truworths Emporium Re-imagined, ID Megastore, Truworths Kids Emporium, Context and Office London, all of which have met our objectives and show promise for the future. The investment in our online capability has ensured that e-commerce has become a meaningful contributor to the Group’s retail sales.
True to our DNA, we have continued to facilitate purchases by customers through any medium they choose and can afford, including lay-bys (lay aways) and in-house credit products. In-house credit is a critical enabler for customers in South Africa who aspire to purchase differentiated and superior quality fashion, especially as many either do not have access to traditional forms of credit or prefer the relational association with Truworths which they enjoy as credit customers. Through the consistent application of our strict credit-granting criteria we have grown our number of active accounts to 2.8 million. Even more impressive is that in the past financial period we have had 5.4 million new applications for credit from customers, almost half of whom are 29 years old or younger, and we have opened 840 000 new accounts, the highest ever.
Since 2020, the Group has repurchased 51.9 million shares for R2.5 billion, thereby returning excess cash and creating value for shareholders. We also maintained our dividend flow and cover, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure our shareholders were rewarded for their investment.
We successfully navigated macroeconomic headwinds through the continued focus on our Business Philosophy, backed by our robust balance sheet and focus on managing margins and costs effectively.
Trading continued to be impacted by pressure on consumer disposable income and discretionary spending in the low growth and high inflationary environments in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The challenging macro environment was further impacted by the energy crisis in South Africa, with record levels of electricity load shedding. The Group spent approximately R40 million on backup power solutions during the year, and plans to spend a further R14 million by December 2023 which will result in stores covering approximately 92% of the Group’s South African sales being fitted with alternative power sources.
While trading conditions in the UK were much improved as tourism rebounded and the workforce returned to offices, consumer spending remained under pressure.
Group headline earnings per share (HEPS) reached 873 cents per share and Group profit for the period reached R3.3 billion, both the highest in the Group’s history. Return on assets, our primary financial productivity measure, was 30%, well above our medium-term target of 22% – 27%.
Group retail sales increased by 11.4% to exceed R20 billion for the first time. Corresponding 52-week retail sales in Truworths grew by 9.1% to R15.0 billion. Account sales increased by 8.2%.
Office’s retail sales grew by 18.8% to £262 million relative to the corresponding 52-week prior period. The strong sales performance in Office, despite the macroeconomic challenges in the UK, affirms Office’s strategic positioning with its customers and the strength of its relationships with the world’s leading fashion footwear brands.
In Truworths we sell more than fashion. Through our fashion offering, our image and our brands, we offer ‘aspiration’ to all South Africans and we enable customers to fulfil their aspirations through our in-house credit offering and other payment channels.
In offering superior quality fabric and garment construction, we acknowledge that at times we are more expensive than our competitors, but we always aim to provide excellent intrinsic value with superb quality and innovative and adventurous blend of colour, fabric and fashion styling.
Our brands are exclusive and have come through organic incubation, while acquisitions intentionally support and enhance the strategy, which evolves from the Business Philosophy, and are never for the sake of growth alone.
One of our merchandise objectives has been to focus on driving sales growth where we are confident of growing market share, including in specific product categories which are underrepresented in our offering. We have also focused on entrenching our most recently developed brands Fuel and Sync. The Fuel store footprint has increased to 49 across stand-alone and Emporium stores, while Sync has grown its presence to 19 stand-alone stores.
Office continues to perform well across both Office and Offspring. Office offers aspirational, in-demand fashion footwear from the world’s leading brands and from its own brand, made-to-order product, while Offspring is a leader in the sneaker community offering highly desirable footwear to customers.
Local manufacturing is a critical component of our supply chain owing to its flexibility and speed to market advantage, with approximately 45% of apparel units being manufactured in South Africa. The sustainability of the local apparel manufacturing sector remains under threat as suppliers face mounting financial pressures, compounded by load shedding. Truworths continues to support and invest in our exclusive design centres and cut-make-trim (CMT) partners, including funding generator capacity, to protect the local supply base and to reduce the risk of supply disruption.
Early in the current financial period Truworths acquired Bonwit, an exclusive ladieswear design centre that has also been a long-standing supplier to Truworths. The integration of the Truworths, Barrie Cline and Bonwit design departments into a single Truworths Africa Design Division will create a more efficient product design process which will allow us to react faster to changing trends in the market.
Construction of Truworths’ new distribution centre (DC) near the Cape Town International Airport is on track for completion by November 2023 when the installation of the materials handling equipment and technology will commence.
The DC is scheduled to be commissioned by October 2024 and be fully operational by early 2025.
The new facility will optimise product allocation to stores and enable the current four warehouses to be consolidated into a single facility that is expected to accommodate growth in the business for at least the next 15 years.
The 52 000 m² facility will be completed at a cost of approximately R1 billion and the Group concluded its first green loan to fund the land and building construction costs. Capital expenditure of R310 million was incurred in the reporting period, R388 million has been committed for the 2024 financial period, and the balance of approximately R300 million will be invested in the 2025 financial period.
In Office we have embarked on a programme to upgrade the warehouse facility in Kilmarnock, Scotland and have made further investments in technology. The closer alignment with Truworths’ retail best practices has assisted Office in improving its stock management capability.
Truworths continued to follow its proven strategy of prudently expanding retail space, maximising space productivity and investing in digital commerce. Trading space was increased by 1.4%, following two years of slight space contraction, with 24 stores opened across all brands and 14 closed. The remaining four stores damaged in the civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal in July 2021 were reopened in the second half.
Our store of the future concept, the Truworths Emporium Re-imagined, was launched with the reopening of the remodelled store in the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town shortly after the end of the reporting period in July 2023. Our Truworths Emporium store concept is unique and is not readily seen elsewhere in the world. Within the Emporium store customers can shop across a wide selection of owned and exclusive brands of unique and distinctive colour, quality and fashion styling, complemented by shoes, bags, accessories, and our beauty and homeware range, most of which is not available elsewhere.
Office opened two new stores while continuing its strategy of closing unprofitable stores. Trading space reduced by 12.6% as six stores in the UK were closed, while all seven in Germany were closed as Office ceased trading in that country.
At year end, the Group’s retail footprint comprised 876 stores. Group trading space is planned to increase by approximately 2% for the 2024 financial period. The major opportunity is in Office where we plan to increase trading space by 10% in the 2024 period through a combination of new stores and repurposing existing leased space through conversion of stock rooms to productive trading areas.
The Group’s investment in digital platforms continues to pay dividends, with e-commerce now accounting for 15% of the Group’s retail sales, having increased from 9% in 2019.
In Truworths, e-commerce sales grew by 45% off a low base and are now equal to the combined sales of the three largest Truworths stores. Sales on Office’s well-established online platform grew by 17% and account for 45% of retail sales, with the online contribution having increased from 24% when the business was acquired by the Group in 2015.
South Africa’s credit market reflects the mounting pressure on consumer spending.
The authoritative TransUnion Consumer Credit Index, which measures the credit health of South African consumers, declined sharply to 39 index points in the second quarter of calendar 2023 from 49 points a year earlier. The decline in the index reflects the deterioration in household credit health as higher living costs adversely impact domestic finances.
Truworths continued to experience strong demand for merchandise purchases on account, with new account applications increasing to 5.4 million from 5.0 million in the prior period. Our account applications have more than doubled over the past five years.
Interestingly, 26% of all applicants are aged between 18 and 24 years, and 64% are under 35.
A record number of 840 000 new accounts were opened and active accounts grew by 5.7% to 2.8 million. Shareholders will be reassured that Truworths maintained its strict new account credit granting criteria, with only 15% of applications resulting in opened accounts.
The accounts portfolio grew by 11.7% to R6.6 billion at period-end. Account sales increased by 8.2% and contributed 70% (2022: 69%) of retail sales in Truworths, with lay-by sales growing by 5.8%.
The account collections environment has understandably been particularly challenging as consumers are under pressure to meet payment obligations. Active account holders able to purchase were at 80% (2022: 82%) at the period-end. Overdue balances to the total accounts portfolio increased to 16% from 14% in the prior period. The expected credit loss allowance on the Truworths accounts portfolio decreased to 20.6% (2022: 20.9%) of gross trade receivables.
The combined membership of our Truworths and Identity customer loyalty programmes increased by 2.4 million to 18.8 million members. These programmes are aimed at attracting and retaining customers while also increasing the basket size and frequency of shopping.
STRONG PERFORMANCE FROM OFFICE
The sustained turnaround in the performance of our UK shoe and sneaker chain is reflected in the strong growth in sales, margin expansion and an increase of 26% in profit before tax, while Office ended the financial period debt-free with cash of £42.8 million. The total alignment with Truworths’ best-in-class retail practices has been an important contributor to this dramatically improved performance.
Office began to reinvest in modernising and selectively expanding its store estate, opening its first new store in three years in Cardiff followed by another new store in Battersea Power Station in London. The strategically located London stores in Carnaby Street and King’s Road were modernised with a new store design concept.
The accessibility of the Office brand is a key attraction for customers and brand partners with its strong online offering together with stores in key locations and markets, giving rise to the current retail sales mix of 55% in-store and 45% online.
In the 2024 financial period Office plans to increase trading space by 10% with the opening of three new stores, including a new Offspring store in King’s Cross in London, three store relocations and renovating a further eight to 10 stores.
Office’s focus on the fashion-savvy “London girl” makes it a sought-after retail partner for the best fashion footwear and top sneaker brands globally.
Truworths is committed to sustainable business practices and responsible environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices, which we believe are essential in creating and sustaining long-term value. Our ESG practices are aligned with seven of the Sustainable Development Goals, the global objectives developed by the United Nations to be achieved by 2030.
Our environmental strategy focuses on reducing consumption and our carbon footprint, particularly in reducing electricity and water consumption at all our facilities. We actively promote the socially responsible distribution of merchandise to avoid landfill dumping and partner with organisations that recycle or reuse damaged merchandise.
Truworths is continually seeking ways to limit packaging and reduce plastics, and from January 2023 all plastic shopping bags have been manufactured from at least 50% recycled materials. Clothing hangers are recycled to limit the use of plastics and the majority of cardboard cartons used to deliver merchandise to stores are also recycled.
Environmental sustainability is critical in our supply chain and we ensure that our suppliers adhere to sound environmental practices by committing to the Truworths Code of Ethics and Good Business Practice.
The new Truworths distribution facility is being built to EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) Advanced global green building standards. EDGE certification is aimed at increasing energy, water and materials efficiency and is managed by the Green Building Council of South Africa, which partners with the International Finance Corporation to facilitate certification in Africa.
Further detail on the Group’s ESG activities is provided in the Environmental, Social and Sustainability Governance Report 2023 available at www.truworths.co.za/reports and the Governance creating value report.
Our Business Philosophy has guided the Group through the volatile macro environment and ensured that we continued to meet changing customer expectations. We are confident that our business model will continue to show its resilience as we enter what is expected to be another challenging year for our customers in the two main markets in which we trade.
SOUTH AFRICA: TRUWORTHS
We are cautiously optimistic on the medium-term outlook for our domestic economy, despite the current pressure on consumer disposable income. Household spending is expected to benefit as inflation continues to decline, with the potential for interest rate relief in the 2024 calendar year, while a sustained reduction in load shedding and a stable post-election environment could stimulate consumer confidence and economic activity.
In the current constrained environment Truworths aims to sustain growth through:
- Continued focus on the merchandise categories where we are under-represented, including the growth in new brands.
- Capitalising on the strength of its accounts portfolio, its expanding customer base and the appeal of its quality, aspirational fashion, supported by the Group’s strong balance sheet and robust cash flows.
- Continuing to launch new retail store concepts and brands, focus on expanding its integrated in-house design capability and improving speed to market
- Investing in technology, including the omni-channel experience.
UNITED KINGDOM: OFFICE
We are similarly optimistic on the continued robust demand for Office’s product offering, both in-store and online, despite the trading headwinds.
Office’s growth will be driven by:
- Introducing and growing new brands
- Opening new stores
- Renovating and extending existing stores in strategic locations
- Capitalising on the strength of its relationships with the world’s leading footwear brands and its loyal customer base.
In closing off on another successful year for the Group, I thank our Chairman, Hilton Saven, for his decisive and astute leadership of the board and our other non-executive directors for their guidance and counsel. Thank you to our Joint Deputy CEOs Sarah Proudfoot and Mannie Cristaudo, the executive teams in Truworths and Office and all our employees for your support, commitment and love of fashion.
Thank you to our loyal customers who have supported us in increasing numbers through our stores and online in the past year. We look forward to continuing to exceed your expectations for quality fashion apparel and footwear in the year ahead.
Chief Executive Officer