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Hobbs on the hunt for larger stores to show off its expanded collection

Womenswear chain Hobbs is beefing up its average store size to cope with a larger product offer after its sales soared 24% to £94.7 million.

Hobbs will open eight UK stores in the next 18 months and relocate some existing stores to larger units this year. The chain's average store size is 1,600sq ft but it will open a 3,000sq ft store in Bath, moving from its existing 780sq ft location, as part of a push towards larger stores.

Chief executive Nick Samuel told Drapers that bigger shops would allow Hobbs to showcase its new accessories range and its expanding Limited Edition premium collection, which will be extended from 10 to 34 stores this autumn.

Hobbs has 113 stores and concessions in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Samuel said: "We are moving some existing stores to larger locations because the range has grown. This will give customers a more comfortable Hobbs shopping experience.

"We are also increasing the number of options in the Limited Edition collection and the depth of the buy by 25% for autumn 07," he added.

Samuel said that strong sales of dresses had helped to push sales for the first quarter up by 6%. He warned that the market was becoming increasingly competitive with consumers sensitive to interest rate rises, but added that full-year sales were expected to be in line with management expectations.

Earnings before interest and tax increased to £13.2m, a rise of 97%.

Hobbs' UK openings are part of a three-year growth strategy, which also includes international expansion in the Middle East, Far East, US and potentially mainland in Europe. As part of the move, Hobbs will open a new accessories concept store in Hong Kong in the next two months.

But Samuel said Hobbs' growth into the east coast of the US could be hindered by a lack of appropriate retail space. "Finding the right-sized space is very difficult, particularly in some of the more luxurious shopping centres," he said.

The retailer is hunting for a design director to join when creative director Karl Henry retires in 2008.

Samuel confirmed that he aims to launch a fully transactional website in the autumn. He also added that the brand might consider a designer tie-up in the future.

HOBBS' RESULTS

EBIT: increased 97% to £13.2 million

Turnover: up 24% to £94.7 million

First-quarter sales growth: 6% to April 28

Accessories offer (excluding shoes): risen to 8% of sales.

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