Laura Ashley Holdings, for the 53 weeks to January 31, 2015, increased profit before taxation by 14.6 percent to 23.5 million pounds (34.4 million dollars). Total group sales went up 3.1 percent to 303.6 million pounds (444.3 million dollars)and retail like-for-like sales increased 1.3 percent. While the second half of the year witnessed like-for-like sales rise of 1.5 percent, online sales for the year grew 8.6 percent.

Commenting on the results, K P Khoo, Chairman, said, “Set against the ongoing challenges of a competitive retail sector, I am pleased to report year on year increases of 3.1 percent in sales and 14.6 percent in profit before taxation. We are committed to developing and growing the international franchise, licensing and online business.”

Profit before taxation excluding exceptional items was up 18.7 percent, whereas retail space fell by 25,000 square feet or 3.2 percent, as the UK store portfolio decreased by four stores, from 209 to 205. Gross margin rate was flat year on year and operating expenses fell by 0.8 percent. The board has recommended a final dividend of 1 pence per share. When taken with the interim dividend of 1 pence per share paid on October 1, 2014, the total dividend for the year is 2 pence per share.

With growth of 8.6 percent over last year, E-commerce channel played a key part in the company’s multi-channel retail strategy. 17.8 percent of total UK retail sales or 16 percent of total group sales were generated through its digital platforms. Laura Ashley now operates a fully translated French site and also delivers its full product range to Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, in addition to the UK. A fully translated German site will be launched later this year.

The UK business is split into four main categories. For the financial year ended January 31, 2015, the relative split of UK sales included furniture at 30 percent, home accessories – 30 percent, decorating, 23 percent and fashion, 17 percent. Total furniture sales decreased by 0.3 percent for the year, whereas sales of home accessories increased by 3.5 percent. Decorating category sales fell by 1.5 percent during the year. For the year, UK retail fashion sales decreased by 2.8 percent with like for like sales declining 0.1 percent. The company continues to review quality, price, style and fit to grow its fashion business.

Generating 10.3 percent of total group revenue, international franchising operations included 303 franchised stores in 30 territories worldwide. Further franchise agreements are expected to be signed later this year. In spite of overall store growth, franchise revenues fell by 1.5 percent over the year due to a weaker Japanese economy and the challenges faced by some mainland European economies. Licensing income increased by 3 percent and several new license agreements are expected to be approved during the current year.


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