Standalone kids’ stores and more gift and accessories shops on the cards as profits and sales climb

Floral-inspired clothing and homewares retailer Laura Ashley is considering launching a standalone kids’ store format as it lays out plans for further international expansion.

Chief executive Lillian Tan told Retail Week the chain was looking at a concept for kids and that it wanted to “try new concept stores in strategic locations”.

Tan could not give a timescale for store openings, which are likely to include kids’ homewares and fashion products, but said Laura Ashley was working on expanding its product ranges at present, before going forward with the trial.

The retailer, which last week revealed that group pre-tax profit climbed 7.8% to £11m in the year to January 30, also wants to open up to a further five Laura Ashley Gift & Accessory stores after a trial at London’s Liverpool Street train station. Laura Ashley said the format had received “extremely positive customer feedback”.

Tan said further shops would be based in high footfall locations such as stations, airports and possibly tourist destinations. She added that the format offers a “new channel to pick up new customers”.

The retailer is also looking at expanding into further overseas territories, with plans to open stores in India, Russia, Thailand and the Philippines. It already operates 230 franchised stores overseas, across 26 countries.

Laura Ashley group revenue increased 3% to £268.4m in the year, aided by a strong performance in the UK where sales rose 3.6% to £243.6m. UK like-for-likes increased 3.5%.

Current trading has continued to register growth, with UK like-for-likes rising 4.6% in the eight weeks to March 27.

International franchise revenues fell 5.6% to £19.4m as the territories continue to be affected by the global economic downturn.

Tan said she was “not worried about” Laura Ashley’s overseas markets, adding: “We think this year we’ll see growth.”

She added that she was pleased with the group “top-line growth, and clean balance sheet”, with “all categories growing”.

This year the retailer will continue to focus on its space maximisation strategy in existing stores. During the period to January 30 it converted nine stores to offer both fashion and home.

Tan added that the election could lead to heightened consumer uncertainty: “We’re a bit cautious. We’re confident of our product offer and the measures we have taken, but no one can know what will happen.”