Fashion and home furnishings retailer Laura Ashley has posted a drop in pre-tax profit after a “challenging” Autumn stunted sales.

In the first eight weeks of its current financial year Laura Ashley reported soaring like-for-like sales of 10.9%.

In its full year to January 28 pre-tax profit excluding exceptionals dropped 2.6% to £18.8m, while group sales edged up 0.3% to £285.9m. UK retail sales slipped 0.6% to £255m but like-for-likes increased 3.3%.

Total online sales for the year grew 10.4% to £35.5m after the group invested in improving its website. It said this now more than compensates for its declining mail order sales.

Chairman Tan Sri Dr. K P Khoo said he was “pleased” with the results against a “very competitive” economic backdrop.

“A strong performance in the first half of the year was followed by a more challenging Autumn; we did however see a return to stronger trading towards the end of 2011 with a positive trend in like-for-like sales growth,” Khoo said.

As part of an ongoing review of its store portfolio, Laura Ashley closed seven stores and opened one, taking its number of shops to 211 in a bid to “optimise profitability”. The retailer is targeting smaller store openings going forward as part of a new store concept, while it said it was “optimising space” in its existing stores.

The retailer also bought a small hotel for £5.8m in the year, which it will use to showcase its products and services.

Laura Ashley is focusing on growing internationally seeking franchising partners in China, South America and India. It opened two stores in Moscow this year.