Business

Laura Ashley to close 40 UK stores amid a push into China

Laura Ashley shop, Truro, Cornwall, UK Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Originally based in Wales, Laura Ashley grew from a small factory in Carno

Fashion and home furnishings retailer Laura Ashley will close about 40 stores in the UK as it plans to expand its presence in China.

Laura Ashley, which is owned by Malayan United Industries (MUI), has already closed some 40 UK stores since 2015.

High Street stores in the UK have had a difficult year as consumer confidence wanes and fewer shoppers visit.

A recent report has shown that some 14 shops are closing every day in the UK amid the tough trading climate.

Andrew Khoo Boo Yeow, MUI's newly appointed executive chairman, told reporters in Malaysia earlier this month that he expected the business to see some tough headwinds across the next two years.

He also said MUI would be restructuring some arms of its business and rationalising assets.

Mr Khoo told the Press Association that the number of UK stores would be reduced from 160 to 120, but that the remaining stores would be expanded.

"It's more about showcasing the brand," he said. "It doesn't really matter if [customers] buy online or offline, we just want them to get inspired.

"It's a challenging environment and it could become more challenging," he said.

The firm said it would would look at moving staff from any stores that are closing to larger outlets.

Moving to Asia in a big way

Mr Khoo told PA the company was "moving to Asia in a much bigger way".

"We have a regional office in Singapore [that is] focused purely on ecommerce into China.

"Once we get a significant foothold in digital retail in China, we can look at the physical stores rollout."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Critics have said the Laura Ashley brand has failed to stay relevant

Originally based in Wales, Laura Ashley grew from a small factory in Carno to become one of the world's leading clothing brands in the 1970s and 1980s.

But analysts have said the brand has failed to stay relevant. The retailer had hoped the launch of a new digital platform in the second half of 2018 would help boost its offerings, but critics have said the firm's e-commerce offerings are not up to standard yet.

At the beginning of this year Laura Ashley issued a profit warning after reporting disappointing 2017 Christmas trading figures.

The news sent shares reeling. At one point they fell 26%, pulled back to a 4% loss and were down 8% by the close.

More recently, the retailer has invested in hotels. The first Laura Ashley branded hotel was opened in 2013. The firm currently has two: Laura Ashley The Manor in Elstree and Laura Ashley The Belsfield in the Lake District.

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