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Turnaround begins to bear fruit for Laura Ashley

Sales at Laura Ashley’s UK fashion arm have started to show green shoots of recovery following changes to “price, quality and design”.

Like-for-like fashion sales rose 1% in the 26 weeks to July 26, following a 6.5% drop for the year to January 25, 2014, the business reported last week (September 5). In 2012 clothing sales fell by 5.6%.

Laura Ashley said fashion made up 15% of total revenues in the first half this year.

Chief financial officer and joint chief operating officer Seán Anglim told Drapers the business was beginning to see the “fruits of its labours” following the changes initially implemented for autumn 13.  

“We have seen really strong growth in our new season fashion after 18 months of underperforming. The changes to price, quality and design were very important and although it’s early days we have seen good increases on last year and we will see more of that in the second half.”

Price points have been dropped by between 5% and 10% on categories including knitwear, separates and dresses to better compete with its mainstream womenswear rivals. Dresses that were priced at £90 are now £75 to £80 for autumn 14.

Anglim said: “We felt the collection was a bit overpriced so adjusted the average selling price downwards. We are trying to be more competitive with our fashion peers.”

Laura Ashley has introduced more natural fibres into the collection across all categories. The company also conducted a review of fits across its fashion range and brought in a wider selection of trouser shapes and dress lengths.

The retailer is also boosting its occasionwear offering - focused on dresses and jackets - for the Christmas selling season following a positive reaction to the category’s reintroduction last autumn, but Anglim would not provide specifics. Occasionwear and workwear were both dropped in autumn 12.

“We have increased our occasionwear for Christmas and hopefully we’ll get it right. We’ll start to feed our gifting and Christmas products into stores from October through to November. We have to ensure we have enough seasonably appropriate product in store as possible,” Anglim said.

Total group profit before tax excluding exceptional items was up £700,000 to £8.5m for the half, while total group sales rose 4.9% to £144m, up from £137.3m in 2013. Total like-for-like sales climbed 1.2%. Group online sales increased 6.1% for the half while international sales soared 13.8%.

Laura Ashley wants to expand its global footprint further and is now looking for franchise partners in the Middle East, India and southeast Asia. The company already has three franchise stores in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi and 117 in Japan. Anglim said it would like to push into China but that would be “further down the line”. It has 208 stores in the UK.

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