Christmas like-for-like sales at the Hartford Group, owner of the Jamies bar chain, were 3.3% up in 2002 for the on-going business, the company said this morning, and it was "looking to make a profit for the first time". The company's chairman, Stephen Thomas, said Hartford delivered its first positive ebitda in the year as a whole, while gearing had fallen to 25% by the year-end. The on-going business made a profit before tax and reorganisation costs of £187,000, "solid progress in Hartford's development into a focused, profitable business". Ebitda for the year was £414,000, which rises to £1.1m when disposed-of businesses and reorganisation costs excluded, against an editda loss last year of £14,000. Like-for-like sales from the on-going business for the year to September 27 rose by 2%, though the company saw a 1% decline in sales if the three sites it had put up for disposal, The Pharmacy and Dakota in Notting Hill, London and The Wells in Ascot, were included. The sales were made at a book loss f £991,000. Hartford said it has substandially improved the ongoing gross margin to 73.3% from 70.4% last year as a result of "aggressive" supplier rationalisation after the acquisition of Jamies, and an increasing focus on drinks-led businesses. In addition the wage-to-sales ratio for the on-going business had fallen to 24.8%. Thomas said the key goals during the integration of the Jamies estate had been to re-motivate staff after a prolonged period of uncertainty, tighten site-level controls, particularly over costs and continue to train and develop staff. "It has been critical that we achieve these goals while not damaging those elements that have characterised Jamies' strong customer offer," Thomas said. "We have predominantly achieved these goals during the financial year, although there is capacity to improve further."