Appreciate Group reporting strong recovery

Employing 250 people in Liverpool city centre, savings, vouchers and corporate rewards business Appreciate Group is reporting a strong recovery from its pandemic dip. Tony McDonough reports

20 Chapel Street
20 Chapel Street in Liverpool city centre which is home to Appreciate Group

 

Savings, vouchers and corporate rewards business Appreciate Group says it is bouncing back strongly from the impact of the pandemic with a significant improvement in trading.

At the end of June, Liverpool city centre-based Appreciate, formerly known as Park Group, revealed its full year pre-tax profits had plummeted by 83% in the 12 months to March 31 due to the impact of COVID-19.

Appreciate employs around 250 people at 20 Chapel Street. After closing its traditional Christmas hampers operation in 2020 it is now focused on Christmas savings, vouchers and pre-paid cards for retailers and corporate rewards.

The firm reports what it calls ‘billings’. This represents the value of goods and services shipped and invoiced to customers, net of VAT, rebates and discounts.

In a trading statement ahead of its AGM, chairman Laura Carstensen reported that the group’s trading in the second quarter of its fiscal year, July to September, was ahead of the same period in the last two years.

Corporate and gifting billings in Q2 are 14.6% ahead of levels seen in full year to 2020 (the last normal trading year before the pandemic) with year to date (April 1 2021 until September 17, 2021) billings now up 3.6%, a considerable improvement on the first quarter, which was 6% lower than the same period last year.

Performance is also significantly better than the same period in FY21, which was severely impacted by the first lockdown. Corporate and gifting billings for the year to date are up 28.1% on the comparable period in FY21. Billings of £40.7m for Q2 are broadly similar to Q2 FY21 (FY21: £40.9m) which benefited from involvement in the free school meals initiative.

This improvement has been driven by strong Q2 performance from Appreciate’s corporate business, which is currently 6.8% up year to date against FY20 with billings of £68.3m (FY20: £63.9m). Gifting billings continue to narrow the gap to FY20 levels. They currently stand at £11.5m (FY20: £13.0m), down 12.1% on the comparable period in FY20.

The group has strengthened its approach to digital marketing and continues to focus on initiatives to drive business, which has resulted in visits to Highstreetvouchers.com increasing by 36.4% on the prior year.

As was expected, there has been a significant improvement in redemptions as restrictions have eased and in person consumer activity has increased. Overall redemptions are up 70.6% on the prior year, with paper voucher redemptions 89.2% higher.

There is no change to our expectation that the Christmas Savings business will be around14% down on FY21. The order book is now largely complete and the business began dispatching the first customer orders earlier this month.

Ms Carstensen, who also revealed she was stepping down as chairman of Appreciate after serving on the company’s board for eight years, said: “As the UK economy and consumer confidence shows signs of returning towards pre-pandemic levels, we are pleased to see the anticipated improvement in performance.

“Following the changes we have made to invest in and reposition our corporate business, we are now seeing positive trends and this gives us confidence for the year ahead. We are nearing the final stage in our transformation.

“We have now invested in a more robust and scalable platform and our focus is on leveraging this to deliver on our growth opportunities, at a time when the economy appears to have moved up a gear but with distance to go to restore pre-Covid momentum and prospects.”

And on her departure, she added: “I am extremely proud to have served Appreciate Group as chairman for the last five years. The management team has transformed the business, building a more robust and scalable platform which provides a strong foundation for growth.”

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