WEST Midlands Co-op has shrugged off fierce competition in the retail sector to announce record profits of more than £ 5.7 million.
In a year that also saw £ 12 million invested back into the business, the society achieved a trading surplus of £ 5,763,000 – an increase of 12 per cent on the previous 12 months.
The figures, revealed in the annual Directors' Report for the year ended 25 September 2004, also show that group turnover rose by 8.3 per cent to £ 176.2 million.
Chief Executive Ben Reid said: "All of our trading divisions have contributed to this improved profit performance, which reflects the strong sense of purpose throughout the society."
He said it was already clear there would be intensified competition over the next year, but added: "There is a real determination to face up to the challenges and tackle them head on."
Competition in the past 12 months had been strongest in food retailing, with a number of the Co-op's competitors reporting poor results.
However the report says it was of real credit to management and staff that the food division increased turnover by 3.9 per cent with profits at record levels.
"A total of over £ 10 million has been invested in the Food Division over the year in order to secure our market share against very aggressive competitors," said Mr Reid.
The past 12 months were the most successful ever for the society's Travel Division, with record profits and turnover up by 15 per cent.
The Walsall Ultra travel branch was voted ?Best Travel Agency' in the town for the second year running and the newly-opened Kidderminster Ultra store won a national travel industry award for innovation.
The performance of the Pharmacy Division was outstanding with record profits achieved despite uncertainty, now resolved, created by the Government's intention to change the role of pharmacies.
The changes, which enable pharmacists to offer additional services, will place the pharmacist "in the frontline of healthcare" claimed Mr Reid.
West Midlands' Funeral Division also increased its market share despite a falling mortality rate, while the report says that a focus on first class training for staff had paid dividends in the Care Homes Division with a number of staff attracted by the society's reputation as a good employer.
Occupancy rates were high, running at 100 per cent for a number of weeks.
West Midlands Co-op continues to be a great supporter of the local community and over the year its Community & Membership Development Committee donated £ 38,000 to support activities carried out by various groups across the region.
£ 8,000 was also contributed to local schools to help them in their bids for specialist status, while many society employees volunteered over 1,900 hours of their time to help a wide range of community activities.
The report reveals that, during the year, the number of employees increased to 2,344 with a significant commitment made to staff development, including more than 44,000 hours of formal training in addition to ?on the job' training, coaching and mentoring.
The society received Race for Opportunity and Opportunity Now bronze awards for its work on diversity issues. It also ran sign language, disability etiquette and disability equality courses during the year.