Laura’s pledge after sales fall

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Retailer Laura Ashley pledged to overhaul its fashion ranges 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.

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 two per cent in the year to January 26, 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 seven per cent to £20.1m.