Menswear retailer Moss Bros like-for-like sales were flat for the 18 weeks to June 1, as it experienced a “difficult” start to the year.

Group like-for-like sales edged up just 0.3% for the period, as demand for its hire services waned, with sales down 6.2%. However, retail like-for-likes, including ecommerce, increased 2%. Total sales rose 0.6%.

The formalwear menswear said following the launch of a new retail platform in January, ecommerce sales had soared, with sales up 138%. Online sales now comprise 3.3% of total sales, up from 1.4% for the same period last year. The company plans to launch a transactional hire website in September. 

Moss Bros chief executive Brian Brick said: “We are pleased that retail sales and margins have reverted to a positive trend after a difficult first seven weeks of the half. Hire sales are performing in line with management expectations, although like-for-likes are expected to be volatile throughout the rest of the year as the Hire business anniversaries against the unusual trading pattern seen during last summer’s sporting events.” 

He added: “Although we remain cautious about the general economic environment we believe our strategy of refitting stores, investing in ecommerce infrastructure and focusing on our target market and customer offer will strengthen the Moss Bros brand and will maximise profitability. We are confident about our medium term growth prospects.”

This year Moss Bros continued to refit stores as part of an ongoing programme, bringing the total number of stores trading on the new format to 24. Moss Bros said that the new format stores were performing better than the non-refitted stores.

The formalwear retailer plans is still undergoing a “comprehensive marketing review” highlighting insights into its target market and plans to hire a marketing director to drive through the findings.