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Laura Ashley eyes younger market

Laura Ashley will extend its fashion offering to a younger demographic “by way of collaboration, capsule collections or launching a new sub-brand”, chairman Andrew Khoo has told Drapers. 

Fashion sales rose by 9.2% for the 52 weeks to 30 June 2019, outperforming a set of underwhelming group results in which the lifestyle retailer swung to a loss before tax of £14.3m from a profit of £100,000 in 2018. 

“It’s a positive sign in terms of results coming out of the fashion business,” said Khoo, “but I feel there’s a lot more that we can do.” 

Building on the success of Laura Ashley’s collaboration with Urban Outfitters for spring 19, the retailer now plans to target a younger demographic to extend its customer base beyond its core shoppers in their fifties and sixties. 

Khoo revealed: “We need to learn from [the Urban Outfitters collaboration], see how we can apply that for the UK market and do something similar by way of collaboration or a capsule collection or launching a new sub-brand.”

“A very limited exclusive drop” will be launched at Laura Ashley’s new flagship at Westfield London in White City, which opens in November.

However, Khoo told Drapers: “The real work beings in six months’ time.” 

Currently, fashion sales account for 20% of the total. 

Further growth is planned internationally with a new licensing agreement for the Chinese market, and the retailer’s first Australian store to open in Melbourne’s Chadstone shopping centre in 2020. 

Explaining the strategy for China, Khoo said: ”My ideal approach would be flagship stores, and we are currently looking at that in Malaysia and Singapore. That can really bring together our lifestyle proposition.

“Our presence overseas in the Asian markets is quite limited, hence why there is a lot of potential to strengthen our profiling and presence. From the early impressions that we get, and the limited sales and presence that we have, we see that the brand does resonate with the markets out there.”

Laura Ashley currently has a limited online presence in China. 

The retailer blamed both poor online sales – revenues fell 14.2% to £51.2m – and the underperforming homeware category for its crumbling profits. 

The replatforming of its website over the period made search and navigation difficult. However, chief financial and chief operating officer Seán Anglim assured Drapers that ecommerce is under control. 

”There have been a few headwinds, but nothing we don’t think we can control and can rectify,” he said. “The replatfomring has happened and now it’s more dealing with the minutiae of the navigation and the customer experience online.”

The heritage lifestyle retailer plans to boost homeware sales by adding “modernity” to complement its core range. 

Anglim said: ”We’ve done a lot of research with our customers, had focus groups and feel that going forward we are on the right recovery path to add a little more modernity into our ranges. We won’t be ditching the Laura Ashely DNA. There is still a huge demand for traditional ranges but we have identified certain gaps, which we know we can fill.”

 

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