Bonmarche catches a chill on high street

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Over 50s fashion chain Bonmarche is the latest retailer to warn about clothing sales, saying it is “cautious” about trading on the high street this year after cold weather hit sales of its new spring ranges.​ ​

The Wakefield-based firm said like-for-like sales edged up 0.4​ per cent​ in the 13 weeks to March 26, compared with a jump of 4.7​ per cent​ in the same period last year. ​

The gloomy outlook follows similar warnings from retail giants M&S and Next.

Fashion chain Next sent a shiver through the high street with a prediction that 2016 will be the toughest it has faced since the financial crisis, sending shares tumbling across the retail sector.

The once iconic 1980s brand warned that the year ahead is set to be the “toughest we have faced since 2008” as it cautioned over profits amid fears of a consumer spending slump.

Bonmarche’s announcement comes after the group rattled the market in December by cutting its pre-tax profit forecasts by as much as 20 per cent to between £10.5m and £12m, down from analysts’ expectations of £13.4m

On Friday the group said its full-year profit will be at the lower end of its December guidance. Shares slumped by 9 per cent to close down 16.5p at 171.5p.

Chief executive Beth Butterwick, who is to leave this year to take up the top job at upmarket fashion chain Karen Millen, said: “Post-Christmas, trading conditions have continued to be quite challenging, with the exception of January where we saw a higher than average demand for autumn/winter sale stock.

“Although helpful in clearing these ranges, the continued colder weather has been unhelpful in kick-starting real demand for spring products.”

Ms Butterwick added: “Overall, consumer confidence does not appear buoyant and, given that context, I believe that the provisional results represent a creditable performance.”

She said that the group expected conditions would remain challenging

“Our financial position continues to remain healthy and our final autumn/winter terminal stock position has ended better than expected, and lower than last year,” she said.

“Our expectation is that trading conditions will remain challenging, and therefore our outlook for the 2017 full year result is cautious.”

Until last autumn Bonmarche was managing to beat bigger rivals such as M&S. Sales rose 6.1 per cent in the second quarter covering July, August and September, ​following prolonged spells of fine weather​.

Bonmarche believes it has an opportunity to increase its market shares as at the moment only 20 per cent of the nation visits its stores.

“One in five women are not shopping with us because they don’t know about us or have misconceptions about us,” said Ms Butterwick.

Under Ms Butterwick, the firm has become a lot less frumpy and far more fashionable ​whilst catering for women who don’t want to bare too much flesh or try to look younger than their years.

Recent best sellers include the “coatigan”, a cross between a coat and a cardigan that allows shoppers to dress for the mild winter and spring months.

The “coatigan” range has now sold out and other popular trends include capes and patterned trousers, which have been a big hit on the catwalk.

Last month Bonmarche announced that Helen Connolly will replace Ms Butterwick.

Ms Connolly is currently senior buying director for Asda’s George clothing business and will join Bonmarche as its new boss later this year, the company announced, without giving a specific start date.

Bonmarche employs just over 3,100 staff across 292 shops and concessions.