Moss Bros better suited for the Christmas season

Menswear retailer Moss Bros yesterday said it was starting the key Christmas season in the best shape it had been in for some time after recent sales leapt more than 8 per cent.

The group reported like-for-like sales up 8.3 per cent in the 18 weeks to December 4, slightly down on the 11.6 per cent seen in the first half, but a further sign its turnaround plans are bearing fruit.

Chief executive Brian Brick said the retailer's profit margin in the period was better than last year, despite stiff competition in the menswear market.

"We enter this key trading period in the best shape we have been in for some time, but we are mindful of the fragile nature of consumer confidence," he said.

Mr Brick is striving to turn the company around after it slumped into the red. It recently posted interim pre-tax losses of 3.3m against 3m a year earlier.

Earlier this year it pledged to be the last one standing in independent specialist menswear.

The company said yesterday it continued to make good progress on its strategy of improving the quality of the store management and reviewing the look and mix of its range of products.

It is also carrying out a comprehensive review of its costs, which will help simplify its operating model and cut spending.

The plans are not expected to involve extensive cuts to its 1,600 store staff, however. Philip Dorgan, an analyst at Altium Securities, said he expects Moss Bros to break even in the 2011/12 financial year.

He said: "The combination of product improvement and cost reduction means that Moss Bros is a decent self-help recovery story."

Moss Bros sales have improved as it taps into a trend for young men smartening up, inspired by television presenters such as Dermot O'Leary and Ant and Dec.

It is trialling its upmarket tailor concept, Moss Bespoke, which it will start to roll out early next year.

A flagship Moss Bespoke store opened near London's Liverpool Street Station in May, offering tailor-made suits from 250 to 500, while it is also sending out a travelling tailor to offices.

Moss Bros has more than 150 stores in the UK including 116 Moss and Moss Bros Hire outlets, as well as 35 stores in its fashion division including Cecil Gee, Hugo Boss, Canali and Beale & Inman.