Laura Ashley sales droop

Sales are down 2.2% for the chintzy brand - but it is refusing to panic.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Sep 2013
Has chintz finally had its day? Laura Ashley, the clothes and interiors brand beloved of country housewives, has posted a 2.2% drop in like-for-like sales for the six months to the end of July, while pre-tax profits were down 10.8% to £7.4m.

But the company’s chairman (and majority shareholder), Malaysian industrialist K P Khoo, said the company is ‘confident in both the quality of our product ranges and the underlying strength of our brand’. In other words: we’re not panicking.

(NB. given its roots in rural Wales, the very fact that it’s now Malaysian-owned puts the brand in the same category of ‘globalised UK brands’ as, say Battersea Power Station).

The weather seems to have been a major problem: Khoo added that ‘a period of prolonged cold weather impacted fashion sales as customers continued to wear winter clothing and did not buy into Spring Summer ranges later in the season’.

In a call this morning, chief financial officer Seán Anglim said that the long spell of hot weather during July had prevented customers from buying home furnishings. The weather gods are never going to get it right...

To be fair to the brand, though, Laura Ashley isn’t the only interiors retailer struggling at the moment. Indeed, the very fact that it has managed to survive the recession relatively intact, while many of its competitors (Habitat, Dwell, Lombok…) either survive in much depleted form or have been put out of their misery altogether, is testament to the strength of its following.

The slight worry is that online sales - for most other retailers, the only area of growth - fell by 3.7% to £19.7m, although the percentage of UK retail sales online represented was up, from 16% last year to 16.4% this year.

Still, apparently ‘archive prints’ are selling well. So perhaps it’ll be the chintz that will save it in the end…

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