Profit hits £3m
Laura Ashley climbed back into the black during the first half and posted a 13.2 per cent rise in like-for-like sales.

In the 26 weeks to July 29, pre-tax profit came in at£3 million, up from a loss of£200,000 during the same period the year before.

UK retail sales advanced 10.3 per cent to£81.6 million over the period and total group sales rose 5.8 per cent to£106.5 million.

Laura Ashley chief executive Lillian Tan said that the results were a strong improvement on last year as management continued to step up efficiency and improve product.

'Despite challenging retail conditions in the UK, we believe that our recovery will continue, underpinned by solid operational efficiency throughout the business,' she said.

Revenue from franchising at the retailer, famed for its floral fabrics, fell by 18 per cent to£9.8 million, let down by reduced sales in the Far East and the closure of the group's Middle Eastern franchise operation.

The retailer said: 'We are reviewing the strength and quality of our existing franchise partners and the franchise agreements under which they operate before we further expand this part of the business.'

Over the period the group began sourcing fashion in Eastern Europe, Turkey and India, as well as the Far East. Fashion posted a 45.5 per cent increase in like-for-like sales against weak comparatives.

Sales of decorating lines, including fabric and paint, were up 10.7 per cent like for like. Furniture sales increased 1.5 per cent and home accessories were up 10.1 per cent like for like.

Sales through the company's mail order and internet arm, representing 12 per cent of total UK retail sales, remained flat. Internet sales were up 29 per cent and mail order sales fell 10 per cent. The group said this reflected a general down turn in the mail order market.