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Online holds key to growth for N Brown Group

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Figleaves owner N Brown Group today said it planned to develop its online services in the quest for future growth, as it revealed that ecommerce sales had risen by almost a fifth in its latest financial year. The home shopping company, which mainly operates through catalogue and the internet, said it would also be exploring the benefits of multichannel by opening three shops for its Simply Be brand.

N Brown Group, which bought figleaves.com last June, today reported its results for the year to February 26. It said online sales had grown by 19% to £324m in the year and now account for 45% of total sales of £718.8m. Total sales rose by 4.2% in the year, while like-for-like sales were up by 1.5%. Pre-tax profits, before fair value adjustments to financial instruments, rose by 5.5% to £98.2m.

In his statement N Brown Group chairman, Lord Alliance of Manchester, said: “In our core home shopping business we continue to see the development of our online activities as the key to growth, since this enables us to have a wider product range and greater flexibility to change our promotional focus cost effectively.

“We will also be exploring the benefits of full multichannel capability by trialling three concept stores during the year for our Simply Be brand. Success will be determined by whether the cost is justified by the incremental customers and revenue generated across all channels.”

Alan White, chief executive, welcomed record sales and profits for the seventh year in a row, and said the last year had been a busy one, with the acquisition of Figleaves and the launch of its Simply Be brand in the US. The company has also invested in developing its High & Mighty stores.

White said: “Our key focus this year will be to expand our home shopping business, both in the UK and internationally, particularly by developing our online activities. While the current year will be challenging, I am confident this strategy will deliver another good result this year.”

Lord Alliance added: “There is no doubt the UK consumer will be facing a tough time, with rising costs and falling income, but we are confident our strategy to focus on our core business, while investing in new brands and pushing forward internationally, will continue to deliver in 2011.”

The company said highlights from the year had also included growth in its brand portfolio, especially Marisota, Jacamo and House of Bath.

Our view: There have been recent suggestions that retailers will move off the high street and into online-only as they look to save money in the years ahead. We're therefore interested to see this predominantly online and catalogue trader moving into the high street with the launch of three shops for its Simply Be brand. That raises the question of what does a 'concept store' do for an online brand? What will it look like? What will it feel like? How far will it be integrated into the existing catalogue and internet operations? We'll be watching the result - and how it fares - with interest. There could well be something to learn.

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