Axe for Christmas hampers puts Mersey jobs at risk

End of an era as Liverpool-based Christmas savings, vouchers and corporate rewards business Appreciate Group, formerly Park Group, looks to end its Christmas hampers operation. Tony McDonough reports

Christmas hamper
Appreciate Group is ending its Christmas hampers operation

 

Merseyside-based Appreciate Group is to close its decades-old Christmas hampers operation – putting dozens of jobs at risk.

Until last year Appreciate was known as Park Group and began life in the 1960s as a Christmas savings and hampers club. It grew out of the Birkenhead butchers shop owned by the family of the business founder, Peter Johnson.

Mr Johnson went on to own both Tranmere Rovers and Everton football clubs and became one of Merseyside’s wealthiest and most high-profile business people. He sold the business, which is now listed on AIM, a few years ago.

Last year, Appreciate moved its headquarters, and the bulk of its 270 staff, from its long-standing Birkenhead home, to the 20 Chapel Street office complex in Liverpool city centre. Earlier this week it competed the sale of its former Wirral HQ for £3.2m, agreeing to lease back a small part of the site. It also announced it had secured a £15m credit facility with Santander.

These days the companies is more focused on Christmas savings, vouchers and corporate rewards business Appreciate Group and said today the hampers business had “declined significantly” in recent years.

Appreciate made the announcement on Wednesday morning as it published its full-year results for the 12 months to March 31. Revealing that pre-tax profits for the year had fallen to £7.7m from £11.3m a year earlier, the company said that employees in the hampers operation were now “at risk”.

Ian O’Doherty
Ian O’Doherty, chief executive of Appreciate Group

 

Head of corporate affairs Andy Hammerton said the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the company’s move to providing more digital products. Of the job at risk, he said: “These sorts of decisions are never easy to make and we will be doing everything we can to give our colleagues the support they need.”

In the annual report, Appreciate chief executive Ian O’Doherty said the company had traded normally for the first 11 months of its financial year but had taken a hit from March onwards due to the COVID-19 crisis. Billings for the year were down slightly from £426.9m last year to £419.9m this year. Revenues were up 2.1% to £112.7m.

Mr O’Doherty reported that billings had been 48% down in the first quarter of the new financial year but had “progressively recovered” as lockdown eased. He added: “”We’ve made significant progress in implementing our strategy to adapt our business for the future.

“Our focus on digital products and delivery has intensified, and we’ve accelerated our development of smarter, more efficient ways of working. This will position us well for doing business after COVID-19.

“Our continued investment in transformation, with changes to logistics and operations completed, is already showing significant benefits. While our performance has been interrupted by the lockdown, we have seen trading start to recover and expect the resumption of growth founded on the more robust and scalable business model.”

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