It is remarkable how time flies but the first quarter of FY 18/19 is already behind us, and although we are on target with budget, we are considerably behind on the bottom line compared to the same period last year. We forecasted very slight growth on the top-line however, we finished Q1 down 6% on budget. It is still proving to be tough going in this economic environment and we continue to face bad debt challenges as well as downward pressure on our margins.
The availability of foreign exchange has stabilized in that we were able to access the same amount as last year for Q1. The banks have advised that the higher production due to the Juniper gas coming on stream has improved inflows to the central bank. When Juniper output slows the Angelin supply should kick in and the banks are confident that the situation should be stable at least for the short term.
In terms of Division performances the results are mixed. In spite of good management of their expenses the Food & Grocery Division has posted a bottom line lower than budget; due mainly to lower than expected margins and top-line. The competitive environment continues to put downward pressure on our prices as we have given up some market share by trying to hold our margins. The Food Service Division had a great April and May but June ended on a bad note due to a provision for a bad debt. Overall however, their results are still considerably better than the same period last year and the Division is showing positive signs of growth.
The Premium Beverages Division is slightly ahead of its bottom line budget in spite of lower than expected sales. This is due mainly to higher than budgeted margins and we hope this trend continues as the year progresses. This Division continues to feel the impact of parallel and contraband imports especially with the Scotch and Cognac brands. Still wines continue to show good growth and we anticipate continued progress with those, as well as the new jug wine - Cara Mia, which we expect to receive better supply in the coming weeks.
The results at the Naughty Grape are mixed; The Mucurapo Road and Maraval locations, which have been open a bit longer, are improving slowly but surely. Chaguanas and Arima however, need growth in their top-line figures. Janine and her team are focussed on delivering excellent customer service in order to drive store traffic and sales. CRU Wine Bar is now up and running, but we have deliberately been tentative with advertising to allow the staff to get over any teething problems. The ambiance is lovely and I encourage all to visit CRU and take advantage of the ten percent discount offered to all Group staff.
SkyWay continues to face a tough environment at Piarco as the Airports Authority continues to allow the opening of more locations. These stores also sell the same four categories that we carry, namely Liquor, Fragrances, Confectionery and Tobacco. With a finite number of travellers and the increased competition this has resulted in lower sales and profits for SkyWay. Our expenses have also climbed, which is not helping the situation. Our second location, which is upstairs just after the security check point, is currently under construction and we are hoping to be open for business before year end. The license takes time but we have already started the process and have our consultant working diligently to expedite the approvals.
We are seeing some positive signs in the Hardware & Housewares Division, that posted a result ahead of last year and budget. This was driven both by a better than expected top-line figure, as well as the curtailment of their expenses versus last year. This is particularly impressive as they have recently added four new sales representatives in order to split the portfolio responsibilities for greater focus. The early signs of this move are positive and we hope to see strong growth in this Division in the fiscal year. Kudos to Team Hardware & Housewares!
As mentioned in my last address, Lara is progressing well in her new role. Her focus is on the DC for the time being and she will be assisted in the coming months by a consultant who will work alongside her to ensure we maximize our efficiency and effectiveness in this area. We have been successful in recruiting, and I am pleased to announce that Mr. Visham Ramdhanie, our new head of Facilities, started on August 2nd. We expect to see improvements in our overall operations going forward now that we have more focus.
The last quarter was particularly eventful for the IT Department as they successfully rolled out Power BI training and implementation across all areas of Brydens. Another important milestone was the migration from Kerio to Microsoft Outlook. We were the first Company in the group to implement these changes and IT is now working with the other subsidiaries on these introductions.
The HR Department also had a busy quarter as they transitioned to their new offices downstairs at the front of the building. The new space provides a purpose built interview room and much needed meeting room for Company wide use. Hosting prospective candidates and employees in the new HR area also provides an improved level of privacy.
The Accounts Department was very busy in Q1 as they worked closely with EY in closing off our management accounts for fiscal 17/18. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for all their support behind the scenes and remind them that their efforts do not go unnoticed.
In closing, I wish to again express my deepest appreciation to all of you, and ask that you continue to give of your best as we strive to return to growth in our profitability in the coming years!