Laura Ashley eyes makeover

Retailer Laura Ashley pledged to overhaul its fashion ranges yesterday after revealing its first slump in annual clothing sales for five years.

The group said like-for-like fashion sales slipped 4.8 per cent last year – the first fall in comparable sales since 2007 – as it suffered from the poor timing of its autumn ranges in last year’s warmer September weather.

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Laura Ashley has been canvassing customers to try and improve its fashion offering, which accounts for nearly a fifth of its sales, and said it hoped its “design and quality are moving in the right direction”. A better performance elsewhere helped group-wide like-for-like sales rise by 2 per cent in the year to 26 January, with sales up 1.4 per cent in furniture – now its biggest division accounting for 30 per cent of revenues – up 8.5 per cent in home accessories and 1.6 per cent ahead in decorating.

Underlying pre-tax profits rose 7 per cent to £20.1 million as it also benefited from surging online sales, up 19.6 per cent in the year.

The firm, which sources 40 per cent of its home furnishings from UK manufacturers, has 212 UK stores and 266 international franchised outlets.