Irish building materials and DIY group, Grafton has reported operating profit of £92.5 million for the first half of the year, which is up 17% on the same period last year.
The company which owns the Woodies DIY retail chain as well as its builders merchant business, Chadwicks and Heiton Buckley, reported revenue up 9% to £1.45 billion.
CEO of Grafton Group, Gavin Slark, said the strong first half performance is the result of the group's diversified business model. Grafton Group had a strong performance geographically, in the UK, in the Netherlands and in particular in Ireland. Builders merchanting, manufacturing and retailing with Woodies in Ireland all performed really well for Grafton.
The trading results give a good indication as to how the construction sector in Ireland is performing. "The demand for housing is still very strong in Ireland," Mr Slark said. "We look at a normalised housing market being between 28,000 and 30,000 homes a year. We're heading for around 18,000 homes being built in Ireland this year so we still see good medium term growth coming through in the housing market in Ireland."
Mr Slark acknowledged that people are frustrated with the pace of recovery, but he said the rate of recovery "does feel managable and does feel sustainable".
More builders are coming on board. "Absolutely. We're seeing more customers coming through the door of the builders merchants business, more homes being built and actually, it is washing through in terms of consumer confidence and people coming in to the DIY stores as well. Woodies has seen a really strong first half too."
The warm weather was good for business at the DIY store. "It was almost a half of two halves," he explained. "We had the inclement weather in February and March, and the public holidays around Easter and St Patrick's Day but then a really long sustained warm spell during May and June really helped to recover the second half very strongly."
Woodies' competitor Homebase recently announced that it is to close three of its stores in Ireland. The Grafton Group CEO said there are two ways that they, as competitors, can look at the closures. "It's disappointing from the overall retail sector that retail is struggling but obviously some of their stores are reasonably close to our stores so there might be a little bit of benefit for us. I think the key thing for us is really focusing on making Woodies a relevant retailer in the 21st century and making sure we are delivering what the Irish consumers want."
Mr Slark said Grafton has a really strong market position in both builders merchanting and in retail in Ireland. Over the past 12 months, it has opened three new builders merchants branches in and around the Dublin area. "We keep on looking for those small bolt on opportunities and making sure we're not just investing in extra branches but making sure that the branches that we do have, are up to date and giving the customers the sort of experience that they want and deserve."