Laura Ashley’s chief financial officer and joint chief operations officer, Sean Anglim, has stressed the strength of the lifestyle retailer’s fashion offer, despite falling profits and turbulent market conditions.
The retailer warned its full-year performance will fall short of expectations after the business made a loss before tax including exceptional items of £1.5m in the 26 weeks to 31 December 2018.
However, fashion like-for-like sales were up by 11.8% for the period. A renewed focus on product and a restructuring of the fashion team in 2017 are beginning to bear fruit, Anglim told Drapers.
“We struggled in our furnishing and decorative products categories and trying to get the product and the price right in those areas will be a focus going forward,” he said.
“Fashion has had a good 24 months for us. We restructured the team about a year and a half ago and hired Vanessa Page as our new head of fashion. It has been about getting the product right and our knit and jersey product ranges have been amongst our strongest performers. The product continues to improve.”
Laura Ashley moved its website to a new platform at the end of last year, which Anglim added he hoped would boost online sales.
“The new website platform will give us the flexibility to do a lot more going forward. There will be an artificial intelligence element, which will allow us to offer customers appropriate product for them when they come to the website. The platform will also enable us to showcase our product better and do promotions in a different way.”
International expansion will be another focus for Laura Ashley over the next 12 months. The retailer opened franchise stores in Thailand and India in the second half of last year and will continue to focus on Asia.
“Our recent foray into Thailand was very important and we’ve also opened our first shop in India and there will be a lot more to come in India. We know there’s a demand for the product in Asia and we want to make the most of that.
“Obviously there are market difference when compared to entering a European market, which is why we’re working with franchise partners to leverage the expertise of local experts, which is so important.”