Laura Ashley growth plan could see 40 stores close

Laura Ashley is to close around 40 stores as the companys new chairman pushes ahead with a fresh vis

Laura Ashley is to close around 40 stores as the companys new chairman pushes ahead with a fresh vision for the brand which includes expansion in China. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Laura Ashley is set to close around 40 stores as part of an expansion plan from its new chairman.

Andrew Khoo told the Press Association that he expects to reduce the number of UK stores from 160 to 120 as he pushes ahead with a new vision for the retailer, which includes expansion in China.

The strategy has already seen 40 branches close since the start of 2015. In East Anglia, it still has stores in Norwich, Beccles, Woodbridge and Colchester.

Mr Khoo, who took over as chairman of Laura Ashley's owner from his father Khoo Kay Peng last week, said he wanted the company to have fewer stores, but for the remaining ones to be larger.

'It's more about showcasing the brand. It doesn't really matter if they buy online or offline, we just want them to get inspired,' he said.

He added that the group would look at moving staff from any stores which close to the enlarged shops.

Laura Ashley is also set to roll out bricks and mortar stores in China once it has built a significant online customer base.

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Mr Khoo said the company already has a regional office in Singapore, employing around 10 people, focused solely on ecommerce in China.

'We're moving to Asia in a much bigger way,' he said. 'Once we get a significant foothold in digital retail in China we can look at the physical stores rollout.'

British retailers have had a difficult year as high street footfall declines and consumer confidence wanes. Last week Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley said November was 'unbelievably bad' and warned that many retailers will be unable to take the strain.

Mr Khoo said that Laura Ashley in the UK had seen some promising signs in the run-up to Christmas including an uptick in clothing sales, but it has been slow to shift big-ticket items like furniture.

'It's a challenging environment and it could become more challenging,' he said.

But he remained positive on Laura Ashley's home market despite the threat of Brexit uncertainty.

'My long-term view of the UK is I have confidence in the UK and we will continue to invest in the UK. As long as Laura Ashley stays relevant there's no reason we can't get over this little speed bump.'

Following the news, Alex Mayer, MEP for the East of England, said a 'big question mark' was looming over the future of the brand's Norwich city centre store, in London Street.

'This is terrible uncertainty for staff especially in the run up to Christmas,' she said.