Laura Ashley is pinning its hopes on a strong end to 2013 after suffering declines for the first 34 weeks of the year.
The fashion and homeware retailer this week revealed group sales were down 5.6% to £137.3m for the 26 weeks to July 27.
Like-for-likes in the first half of the year dropped 2.2% and even ecommerce fell 3.7%.
Fashion was the worst-performing department, with sales down 6.9% compared with the same period last year and like-for-likes down 6.6%.
Despite gross margin improvement of 1.3%, underlying pre-tax profit excluding exceptional items fell 10.8% to £7.8m.
The current trading period also got off to a weak start, with sales falling 1.3% in the eight weeks to September 21, “reflecting continued underperformance of the fashion category”, the business said.
Chief financial officer and joint chief operating officer Seán Anglim said: “There’s no denying the fashion performance is disappointing.”
He pinned much of the blame on unusually cold weather earlier in the year, but acknowledged there were still issues with the fashion offer.
“We know we have made some mistakes in fashion in the last 12 months and we are busy trying to correct those and get the range back on track,” Anglim added.
Autumn 13 would be “given an edge” by the introduction of an archive collection and the relaunch of its occasionwear range, he said.
Each sub-collection will comprise around 20 to 30 pieces, with the archive pieces landing in October and the occasionwear dropping in early to mid-November. The archive collection will retail at £70 to £100, with the occasionwear pieces retailing at around £100.
“They are going to be an important part of our second half. They will plug a gap we didn’t fill last year,” said Anglim.
Occasionwear had been dropped for autumn 12, which he admitted “was a mistake on our part”.
The first half underperformance follows a poor full year for Laura Ashley’s fashion arm. In April, it reported that fashion sales declined 5.6% although the group grew 4.5% to £298.8m.
Following a review into the wider performance of its fashion arm, the retailer plans to improve quality and style and make prices more competitive, starting next spring.
Anglim said the changes would be “subtle” but would address any problems raised by customers. The spring 14 collection will also see the introduction of loungewear, more nightwear and a broader perfume and toiletries collection. The 60-year-old business hopes fashion will climb to make up 23% to 24% of turnover, up from 19%.
Homeware, which makes up nearly half of the overall business, will remain the dominant category, but Anglim insisted fashion was “a very important” part of the mix.