WOMENSWEAR retailer Bonmarche put bigger rival Marks & Spencer in the shade with a 55 per cent leap in annual profits, boosted by strong demand for cropped trousers, shorts and swimwear as the over 50s embrace catwalk fashion that has been modified to suit more mature women.
At a time when M&S has been criticised for selling frumpy outfits, Wakefield-based Bonmarche said its customers are demanding more fashionable clothes as they refuse to adhere to old-fashioned views about how mature women should dress.
Much of the change has been led by Bonmarche’s CEO Beth Butterwick who is championing on trend clothes for over 50s that flatter the figure and avoid fashion faux pas such as bare top arms, tight fitting waists and showing too much cleavage or leg.
“We don’t lead the way in terms of trends, we allow customers to follow the trends,” she said.
“We take the latest trends and make sure they’re the right arm length, leg length and they skim the stomach. The best way to be really up to fashion is colour and print.”
Top trends for 2015 include printed trousers and leggings, layered tops and printed floral dresses worn with a long jacket coat.
There is also strong demand for cropped trousers and layered blouses with ruffles while the group’s David Emanuel collection, which offers more premium, occasion wear, reported strong sales of lace dresses and tops, long coats, and accessories such as bags and fascinators to provide a whole outfit for a wedding, racing day or christening.
Many of the more fashionable elements of the David Emanuel collection are being permeated through the rest of the Bonmarche range.
Bonmarche said the shift towards more fashionable clothing is evident in its sales mix. Two years ago its contemporary designs made up just 35 per cent of sales while 65 per cent was classic design. Now contemporary makes up 67 per cent of sales.
“Customers want to be up to date and modern but they also want to be comfortable. If it feels uncomfortable they won’t buy it,” said Ms Butterwick.
The group has rolled out personal shoppers across its store portfolio who show customers how to put an outfit together, especially for special occasions.
The group said like-for-like sales rose 4.0 per cent in the year to March 28.
Last month M&S’s general merchandise division, which includes clothing, reported like-for-like sales growth of 0.7 per cent in the first three months of 2015 following 14 quarters of like-for-like declines.
Bonmarche said annual pre-tax profits rose 55.3 per cent to £12.4m. Before exceptional items they rose 10.4 per cent. Last year the group had to pay costs related to its November 2013 stock market flotation.
Strong summer sales were followed by a slower second half of the year amid mild weather, a period which left many retailers finding it hard to shift unwanted heavy winter coats and boots.
Analyst Kate Calvert at Investec said: “The full-year 2015 results highlight how far Bonmarche has come, with increased operational flexibility enabling it to deliver strong growth against a volatile and difficult trading backdrop.
“This is a strong result given how challenging the trading environment was in the second half of 2015. Near perfect weather drove first half sales, with warm weather in the second half hitting sector demand and resulting in higher markdown from a very promotional industry environment.”
Bonmarche said it managed to raise average prices by 1.8 per cent over the year.
It opened 29 new stores that contributed £8.3m of additional sales to a business that saw overall revenues rise 8.7 per cent to £178.6m.