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USC refocuses to beef up men's offer

Young fashion retailer USC is set to ditch its own-brand womenswear and halve its branded women's offer in a bid to become a menswear-focused retailer.

The 60-store chain is looking at discontinuing its Stark and Poste Mistress womenswear labels in the face of increasing competition from the high street womenswear market, to focus on menswear following double-digit like-for-like growth in the category.

Branded womenswear currently accounts for about 50% of USC's space, and generates just 35% of turnover, according to a source close to the company. In future, womenswear will be cut to 25% of total space.

A USC spokesman said the fate of the own-label offer was not yet sealed. "We are in consultation as to whether these brands will continue. We are scaling down womenswear and may just change the way we source that product."

However, a source close to the business said axing the brands was part of USC's new strategy.

If the proposal goes ahead, it is understood the retailer will close its London office, resulting in the loss of at least seven buying, merchandising, quality control and administration roles. However, it is understood the footwear functions will be retained.

USC will continue with own-brand menswear via its Soviet line and will increase its branded offer, which currently includes Firetrap, Diesel, G-Star and Bench, in an effort to become the UK retail destination for menswear. As a consequence, womenswear brands such as Guess, Miss Sixty and Vila could be among those to have orders cut.

Following a cash injection from owners West Coast Capital, USC is also embarking on a £4 million marketing campaign to communicate its new menswear focus, as well as investing in a new storefit to showcase the overhauled product mix.

Although the company would not give details, USC chief executive Jim McGonigle said it aimed to further secure its position in the branded market with a stronger focus on menswear and that visible changes in stores would be seen this season. "We've conducted a major strategic review and now know where the branded sector is going and how we can lead the market there. Over time you will see a shift in our customer offer.

"USC's new offer will look a little different," he added. "We will continue to drive our cost base down where possible to lift our margins, in order to secure our long-term future as a premium branded retailer."

USC said it was now on course to deliver significantly better financial results. It reported a pre-tax loss of £8.7m for the year to January 2006. Venture capital fund West Coast Capital, led by entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter, acquired the business in May 2004.

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