Sales at Laura Ashley’s UK fashion arm have fallen for the second year in a row, with its clothing arm dropping 6.5% for the year to January 25, 2014.
The business saw like-for-likes fall 5.2% for the period, with underperformance particularly concentrated in the first half, when the division was down 6.7%. It follows a similar drop last year when fashion sales fell 5.6% with like-for-likes down 4.8%.
Laura Ashley Group, which includes its much larger home division, posted a £19.3m pre-tax profit, excluding exceptional items, which was down 4% on the previous year. Total group sales dropped 1.4% to £294.5m, with like-for-likes down 0.4% for the period. The international franchise arm rose 4.2%.
Laura Ashley shut three stores in the UK during this period.
Chief financial officer and joint chief operating officer Sean Anglim told Drapers that clothing had shown signs of growth in the fourth quarter of the 2013/2014 financial year, with like-for-likes growing 1.5% on the back of a number of changes “from price, colour, print style, fabric composition”.
Price points have been dropped on certain items such as knitwear and other separates – with Laura Ashley partly taking the hit while negotiating new terms with suppliers.
The team has also carried out fit analysis and customer research, reintroducing both work wear and occasionwear, which were only dropped after autumn 12.
“We have a much clearer idea of what we did wrong and what we need to do to get it right. Hopefully in another six months, we will be saying it worked,” Anglim said.
Fashion now makes up 18% of total revenues, down from 19% last year and 20% the year before. However, Anglim believes it can grow to as much as 22% of the total if the improvements are successful.
Meanwhile the lifestyle retailer has seen good growth online, which now makes up 16% of total sales, and international, which makes up 11%, and is looking to build on that for the current financial year.
It plans to launch a French language transactional site in the next month, with a German one following in the two months afterwards.