The predictably unreliable British summer has hit yet another retailer as homewares and fashion specialist Laura Ashley blamed the weather and poor product offer on a sales slip.
Laura Ashley said its underperforming fashion offer led to like-for-likes falling 0.6% in the 18 weeks to June 1.
Laura Ashley is certainly not the only fashion retailer to find its core summer range out of step with the drab weather. However, seemingly few have have made the same mistake twice.
Reporting its full year results in March, the heritage retailer admitted that a 4.8% fall in fashion like-for-likes was caused by poor product offering - including too many dark colours and a narrow party and occasion wear range in the lead up to Christmas - as well as an unseasonably warm autumn.
“It is always a problem when you report the same issue twice in consecutive periods,” says Anusha Couttigane, fashion consultant at analyst Conlumino. “But timing has been key to Laura Ashley’s fashion problems: its summer collection has come out in cold weather, its autumn collection was released in warm weather.”
The product range itself is on-trend, adds Couttigane, but she says that its problems stem from an “inability to make decisions that reflect what is happening in real time”. Although she adds: “It is a symptom of the problems facing all UK fashion retailers, they just can’t respond quickly to unpredictable conditions.”
If there are lessons to be drawn from two consecutive poor summers, make that three if the current weather continues, then it must be that flexibility is key and buying product that is less weather-dependent is a must. Couttigane sayss: “A range of staple products that will see retailers through any weather is essential.”
Laura Ashley has already set about addressing the flaws in its fashion strategy, with customer research into product range and price underway, and Couttigane is confident that its current issues are a blip and not a sign that Laura Ashley should scrap fashion in favour of its better performing homewares business. “Fashion is important for its international business as it translates more easily than homewares,” she explains.
The retailer is pinning its hopes for growth on overseas markets, opening 10 new shops in its franchise business and agreeing a further three franchises in the 18 week period, taking the total to 276 shops in 31 countries.
Kate Ormord, retail analyst at Verdict, says the retailer is right to reduce its dependence on the domestic market but she questions whether franchising is the right method. “The opening of wholly owned flagship and destination stores in major international cities would give the retailer more control and enable it to better promote its proposition.”
With recent investment in its ecommerce platform and a mobile site and app, launched last year, showing positive early signs of success, Couttigane believes that Laura Ashley is heading in the right direction, but with younger brands such as Cath Kidston snapping at its heals, it can ill afford to fall out of fashion for a third season.