Rental habit is making up shortfall in consumer confidence for East Anglian retailer Hughes Electrical

Hughes Electrical in Norwich.
Picture: Antony Kelly.

Hughes Electrical in Norwich. Picture: Antony Kelly. - Credit: � ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

The boss of one of East Anglia's biggest retailers said his company had 'made the best of a difficult year' in the wake of the Brexit vote and a softening of consumer confidence.

Hughes Electrical saw turnover remain broadly flat at £113.99m in the year to the end of March, up from £113.48m in the previous 12 months, but pre-tax profits rose to £3.02m from £2.34m, according to its latest filing at Companies House.

Managing director Robert Hughes pointed to the EU referendum vote as having been a turning point in shopper behaviour, with people concerned about the income squeeze increasingly choosing not to buy big electrical goods but to rent them instead, and more customers requesting finance.

That trend was driven by younger customers, said Mr Hughes, who have grown used to renting cars and mobile phones, and have extended the habit to home entertainment and white goods.

And despite shoppers tightening their belts, Mr Hughes said the EDP/EADT Top 100 company remained confident about the year ahead.

'Customer demand is determining our growth. We are seeing a big drop-off in consumer electricals and goods because customers can defer buying, but we are seeing steady business in appliances because you need a cooker in the house,' he said.

'With rental, we have growth. We need the shops to support the community and people want to see, touch and hear their appliances. We wouldn't do as much business online if we didn't have the shops.'

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Though retail volumes had reduced, the value of those sales has remained the same because of a 10% price rise prompted by the weaker pound – though the effect was only fully shown in the year's final quarter.

Increased trade focus, with new centres opening in Leeds and Leicester during the year, had also helped to smooth fluctuations in consumer demand. Both trade and online channels grew by 9%.

The company also plans to invest in IT, warehousing and rental, for which it hopes to raise £1.75m through the sale of an investment property, sale and leaseback of a shop and relocation of a trade centre.

Hughes Electrical was founded in 1921 and now operates 41 stores across the country, employing more than 800 people.