LONDON, United Kingdom — Britain's biggest sportswear retailer JD Sports made light of the UK's retail sector woes on Tuesday as its gym clothing and premium-branded fashion helped it to a profit rise that propelled its shares to the top of the FTSE leaderboard.
JD has successfully targeted younger consumers who are driving the trend for so-called athleisure as sports clothing becomes more acceptable in all walks of life. It sells premium ranges from the likes of Nike and Adidas, often using exclusive products to set itself apart from rivals.
"Against a backdrop of widely reported retail challenges in the UK, it is extremely encouraging that JD has delivered like-for-like sales growth of more than 10 percent," said Executive Chairman Peter Cowgill.
He told Reuters that US brand Supply & Demand is proving popular and The North Face clothing always performs well in the winter months.
"There is a lot of competition, but the scenario is that we have to stay ahead in terms of selection of product ranges that are appropriate for the targeted consumer," he said.
Shares in the group rose 5.8 percent in morning trade to 663 pence, topping the FTSE 100 index of leading British companies.
Analysts at broker Peel Hunt upgraded their target price to 700 pence, saying JD's performance in the period had been "nothing short of stellar."
"JD's attractiveness to shoppers and suppliers (and investors) is at an all-time high and we see little chance of this changing," they said.
Though uncertainty over Britain's planned departure from the European Union continues to weigh on the retail sector, Cowgill said that JD is confident of achieving full-year market expectations for pretax profit, which currently range from 402 million pounds ($494 million) to 424 million pounds.
He said it would have set its sights on the top end of expectations but for an accounting change that is likely to restrict profit to the mid-point of the range.
Founded in 1981 with a single store in the North West of England, JD now has more than 2,400 stores across markets in Europe, Asia Pacific and the United States.
Cowgill said he was "very pleased and satisfied with progress" at US chain Finish Line, where it is closing some underperforming stores, extending clothing ranges and working to improve margins.
It achieved like-for-like sales growth of 5 percent across the Finish Line branded stores and website, which Shore Capital analysts said bodes well for the future.
JD's acquisition of Footasylum is under review by the competition regulator in Britain, so will operate separately until the process is completed, the company said.
The group said it is accelerating the opening of a new European warehouse in Belgium to cope with any Brexit disruption risks.
It had always expected to need a European distribution centre sometime after 2021, it said, but is now securing a site for early 2020 with sufficient capacity to process launch product for its key footwear brands.
By Paul Sandle and Noor Zainab Hussain; Editors: Keith Weir and David Goodman.