The business is headquartered in Middlesbrough. The first Ramsdens store opened in Stockton-on-Tees in May 1987 and as at 31 January 2023 there are 158 Ramsdens stores including 2 franchised stores supported by a growing online presence. The Group was admitted to AIM in February 2017.
Ramsdens is a diversified financial services provider and retailer. The Group operates in the four core business segments of;
- foreign currency exchange, primarily money for holidaying customers and international bank to bank transfers
- pawnbroking loans, which are short term loans up to 6 months in duration secured on items of jewellery or watches
- precious metals buying, which is the buying of gold and silver from customers and selling the non-retail pieces to a bullion dealer, and;
- retailing of luxury pre owned watches and pre owned and new jewellery
The Board believes Ramsdens’ diversified income streams provide defensive qualities against the macroeconomic challenges that lie ahead. The uncertainty caused by energy cost increases, general inflationary pressures and higher interest rates will prove a challenge to many businesses, and Ramsdens is no different.
However, we also see opportunities. We would hope that after three years of disruption to summer holidays, 2023 may see the level of holidays taken by consumers return to 2019 levels, although it is always possible that economic conditions may delay that.
Tougher economic conditions will no doubt lead to increased and sometimes unexpected bills for our customers. As an asset-backed loan, pawnbroking provides a solution to an immediate borrowing need and allows customers six months to repay their loans or to make longer term financial arrangements. We have seen the continued demand for this simple solution as the Ramsdens pawnbroking loan book finished the year end at a record high. Due to global economic uncertainty, the gold price is also expected to remain higher than long term averages, which will benefit both our pawnbroking and precious metals buying business segments. While there is greater uncertainty for the outlook on retail, as jewellery is often a discretionary spend, Ramsdens has been investing heavily in upskilling staff, building appropriate stock levels, stock presentation and replenishment systems and it is expected that the significant momentum we have seen during FY22 will support a continued strong performance in FY23.
Of course, the Group is not immune from rising costs. While energy prices for the vast majority of our stores are fixed until February 2024, stores opened since February 2021 are not part of that contract and have been subject to higher energy costs. The biggest cost to the business is also our most important asset: our people. We have a duty to look after our people and, in addition to professional development initiatives, opportunities for career progression and welfare programmes, we also want to reward our staff well. In addition to a one off ‘thank you’ bonus, our January 2023 pay review will again ensure that our staff are paid at least the Real Living Wage with the potential to earn more through attractive bonus schemes.
Following an extensive review, the Board believes that its existing strategy, communicated over the last few years, remains the right course for growing our business and delivering value for all our stakeholders in a sustainable manner. Our staff and their development are a core component of achieving our aims.
We continue to concentrate on:
- Improving the performance of our existing store estate
- Expanding the Ramsdens branch footprint in the UK
- Developing our online proposition
- Appraising market opportunities presented by operating in a challenging market
- Focusing on sustainability through our ESG policy
Improving the performance of the existing store estate
All income segments have shown significant growth over FY21 levels, as the Group has recovered from the pandemic restrictions.
The strategic focus we have placed on attracting new customers and driving a higher wallet share from our repeat customers has led to a record pawnbroking loan book and record jewellery retail revenue. Our focus remains the same across the existing store estate.
Our costs are well controlled, with our largest cost being our staff. We fully understand the important role our staff play in achieving our strategic objectives and as a result we have budgeted for a positive pay review which has been brought forward to January 2023 from April. We are committed to ensuring that our staff remain not only productive but also feel rewarded in their careers at Ramsdens.
Rents continue to be negotiated downwards where there is an opportunity to do so, balanced with a desire for flexibility with lease expiry and break dates, especially if the town has some demographic challenges. In recognising this high street challenge, where the return on capital justifies a relocation, we will actively move a store to improve our footfall-reliant services of foreign currency exchange and jewellery retail while potentially reducing operating costs at the same time.
We believe our store estate performance is complemented by a strong online proposition. By investing in our retail jewellery website in recent years we have improved each store’s access to a wider range of jewellery which has improved customer service levels and resulted in increased in-store sales.
In addition, we aim to improve the performance of our key income streams:
- The three key drivers for foreign currency remain trust, convenience and price. Having available stock and transparent pricing continues to build trust among consumers.
- By having branches conveniently located on high streets and in shopping centres, we will continue to attract consumers wanting foreign exchange services.
- By having competitive exchange rates, we will attract new and retain existing customers whilst continuing to manage margins closely, with due regard to local market conditions.
- By improving the frequency of contact we have with our foreign currency customers, we will stay in our customers’ thoughts when they next need foreign currency.
- By developing a market-leading multi-currency travel card, we will seek to capture more of the customer’s holiday spend while abroad.
- We have fully embraced the FCAs New Consumer Duty initiative. We have always had the consumer at the heart of what we do and this has been demonstrated by our loyal customer base. We will continue doing what we believe are the right things for our customers – this includes reducing interest rates for customers needing longer to pay and, if a customer defaults, by continuing to obtain the best price possible for them by selling by private treaty and not using an auction process which we believe disadvantages customers.
- We will continue to have prudent lending policies while examining opportunities to lend more when the customer’s borrowing history suggests greater capacity to repay and where the pledged assets are more desirable and readily saleable. Our improvement in our retail jewellery operations gives the Group confidence that it is able to lend more on higher value jewellery items.
- We will continue to build upon the trust and high repeat customer volumes earned by giving a great service and grow the customer base through word-of-mouth recommendation.
- Stock levels have significantly increased over the last 18 months. This has been a deliberate strategy to give our customers more choice in-store and online and enable improved replenishment capabilities. This investment continues with the benefit of lessons learned during recent years and with the belief there is room for further improvement across both jewellery and premium watches.
- We are continuing to work on the display of our products to create more customer appeal as well as continuing to invest in our retail website which also acts as a stock catalogue for our branches to facilitate further in store sales.
- Where appropriate, we will relocate to higher footfall locations to improve the jewellery offer with larger window display areas, often at similar rents to current locations.
Purchase of precious metals
- We are increasing the awareness amongst our existing customer base, primarily foreign currency exchange customers who are unaware of the service or the value held in damaged or simply unwanted or unworn jewellery.
Expanding the branch footprint in the UK
The Group has a successful branch-based model. With diversified income streams, stores generate a good return on capital while leveraging the head office cost base. We have successful stores in small towns and large cities which gives us confidence that we can be successful on most high streets that have a nucleus of returning shoppers.
As at 30 September 2022, we had 152 stores plus two franchised stores.
During the year, we opened three greenfield sites and acquired a pawnbroker in Boscombe. We closed stores in Middlesbrough (secondary foreign currency kiosk) and Ripon; both of these stores were merged with other local Ramsdens stores.
The year also saw the first new store opened in the South East of England in Chatham, Kent. This store has had a good first year, well ahead of expectations, and we plan to open up to another seven stores in the South East in FY23.
Overall, we have targeted 12 locations to open in FY23. In Q1, we have now opened stores in Bootle in the North West, a second store in Bradford in Yorkshire, and Basildon in Essex. In Q2 we have stores scheduled to open in Croydon in Greater London, Maidstone in Kent and additional stores in Yorkshire and the North West of England.
Developing our online proposition
Jewellery retail website - www.ramsdensjewellery.co.uk
We continue to make good progress with the online sales of jewellery items. Sales have increased to £3.9m, up 38% from £2.8m in FY21. This performance excludes jewellery sales in branches which used the in-store digital facility to access the website as a catalogue of stock.
As part of our ongoing review of performance, the retail website was refreshed in Q1 FY23. This review improved the website layout and should significantly increase the success rates of our search and filter functions. Together with improved search engine visibility, investment in pay per click advertising, social media and affiliate advertising, use of differing payment options, improved photography and descriptions and learning from integrated AI, this should drive ongoing retail jewellery sales growth.
We see the development of our online retail jewellery website as complementary to our store estate and both will benefit as the store estate expands and the website generates increased brand recognition.
Website strategy - other key income streams - www.ramsdensforcash.co.uk
The ramsdensforcash website is currently being updated to create a portal to individual websites for each of our four key income streams.
Three new websites for foreign currency exchange, gold buying and pawnbroking will launch early in 2023 and will be supported by investment in search engine optimisation. By having this broadened online offering we hope to enhance our online channel revenues and profitability as well as support the performance of the branch estate in these segments.
Appraising opportunities presented by operating in a challenging market
The high street retail landscape has been challenging for a number of years. Following on from the impact of the pandemic, retailers are more likely to have higher debt burdens and now face increased energy costs and increased staff costs at a time when consumer income is being squeezed by high levels of inflation and increasing interest rates. This will impact some travel agents and jewellers who may leave the high street or indeed the market altogether, presenting opportunities for Ramsdens to attract new customers, takeover prime retail locations or acquire businesses.
Our estimate of the number of pawnbroking outlets in the UK remains at approximately 870 - operated by circa 130 pawnbroking businesses. The Ramsdens operating board are well networked within the industry and should a pawnbroking business come up for sale in the UK, we would expect to hear of it and then evaluate the opportunity against our target rate of return. This was evidenced by the purchase of Geo A Payne & Sons pawnbrokers in Boscombe in February 2022. This business has performed well and in line with expectations since acquisition.
While most pawnbrokers have seen increased lending levels in the last 12 months and have optimism for future lending given the macroeconomic conditions, the administration and cost burden of increased regulation may mean some participants seek to exit the industry, which may present further acquisition and expansion opportunities.
The South East has the highest concentration of pawnbroking outlets in the UK and presents a compelling expansion opportunity for the Group. Our continued expansion into the South East is aimed at creating a nucleus of Ramsdens stores that build brand recognition and then, as opportunities arise, acquiring further pawnbroking outlets or loan books to supplement our organic growth.
We continue to hope for a full reform of the non-domestic rates system which may encourage more retailers to open stores and recreate vibrant high streets. Without reform, we fear some towns and high streets may suffer further decline and more empty shops. Our property portfolio has been purposefully managed to be as flexible as possible to provide a defensive quality in case any of our stores become isolated and performance deteriorates.
When looking at new town and relocation opportunities, investments will only be made in new stores after significant research of footfall and adjacent retailer quality. The demise of certain retailers in a town can however provide an opportunity to obtain reductions in rental levels in certain towns while not compromising on location.
Focusing on sustainability through our ESG policies
To read more about our ESG policy, please click here.