Laura’s pledge after sales fall

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.

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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 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.