Essenden, the ten pin bowling operator, which underwent a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA), has reported a 4.3% increase in like-for-like sales for the 26 weeks to 1 July across its core continuing estate. The group, which is the second largest UK operator of bowling and family entertainment centres, said it was close to being debt free, with a reduction since year end to £1.1m and reported a 76% rise in EBITDA to £2.3m for the period. However, chief executive Nick Basing warned that although the business had experienced a “marked improvement across our dashboard of measures”, it remained on its “guard for the hazards that may lay ahead”. Turnover for the period stood at £24.7m down from £25.2m. The group said it had seen a sixfold increase in pre-tax profits to £78k, and a 4.3% rise in customer traffic. Average unit EBITDA climed 37% during the period to £165k. The company said that the CVA it implemented last September had left no further liabilities other than a scheduled payment of £123,500 in March 2013 and a potential incentive payment of £325,000 that would be made in March 2014 assuming certain EBITDA targets are met. During the period, the group operated two sites that were included in the CVA where it made arrangements with the landlord to continue operations. It said that discussions were ongoing with other landlords in the estate to ensure that all its sites have appropriate rents in order to create a sustainable business. Basing said: “The last six months performance has started to show the benefit of the radical turnaround steps that we have introduced over the last two and a half years to improve Essenden's business. These measures have created a stronger business, able to withstand the difficult economic conditions. “Whilst we have turned around the performance of the company, the economic conditions have continued to place a heavy burden, reinforcing the need for us to have taken bold actions in our time. It is imperative to continue to reduce our fixed cost base. I do not expect the trading environment to improve in the coming months. However, the first six months of this year have given us momentum that has continued into the next quarter (the impact of the Olympics on customer demand has been in line with our expectations). “Tenpin bowling and other products are still universal in appeal and we believe have a healthy future as part of today's consumers’ leisure spend. The Board continues to support the strategy of re-building the business and remains solely focused on enhancing shareholder value.”