Laura Ashley hopes ads will boost fashion appeal

Sofas-to-skirts retailer Laura Ashley has embarked on a brand-building ad campaign to throw the spotlight on its repositioned clothing offer.

Reporting a return to profit, joint chief operating officer Iain Nairn said the retailer now had something to 'shout about'.

The print campaign, which broke last weekend, showcases the new, more design-led collection assembled by product director Alistair Blair, and will be repeated in June. A second campaign for autumn/winter will highlight both fashion and home.

Fashion has consistently underperformed the home furnishings business at Laura Ashley. Fashion like-for-likes fell 12.2 per cent in the 11 weeks to April 17, compared with 8.9 per cent growth in home.

Nairn said despite plans to reduce the number of stores that carry clothing, the retailer was committed to the dual strategy because top spenders shopped both categories.

'We went too mass market and tried to compete with Marks & Spencer on price,' said Nairn. 'Success for us is about being design-led and using the power of the brand.'

In the year to January 31, the retailer turned a loss of£4.9 million into a pre-tax profit of£3.1 million. Sales rose 3.6 per cent to£270.3 million.

'Burberry and Pringle stand as proof that brands can be turned around,' said Numis analyst Iain McDonald. 'Other businesses with a similar mix earn net margins in double digits. It is unrealistic to expect Laura Ashley to reach this in the next couple of years, but the potential is there.'