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Laura Ashley says sales running ahead of expectations – but efforts to secure funding continue

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Laura Ashley today said its sales were running well ahead of expectations – and it was yet to see any significant effect of the coronavirus outbreak on its business. But its efforts to refinance the business’ working capital needs are still ongoing and if it cannot find the funding, it will need “to consider all appropriate options.”

The fashion to homewares retailer, ranked Top100 in RXUK Top500 research, said sales in the six weeks to March 7 were up by 27.7% on the same time last year, while gross profit was 22.2% ahead.

As yet, Laura Ashley said, it had not seen any “significant financial impact” from the Covid-19 coronavirus on its business, but that if visitor numbers to shops fall, its sales could be affected. It said it would monitor the situation closely.

The retailer also said that work to refinance the business in order to meet ongoing working capital requirements was ongoing. “If the group is unable to secure commitment for the requisite level of funding by the end of March to satisfy its ongoing working capital requirements and turnaround plan, then the company will need to consider all appropriate options,” it said in today’s financing and trading update.

The update marks something of a sales turnaround in the business. Laura Ashley reported falling sales and profits in the first half of its financial year, to December 31. Group sales of £109.6m were down by 10.8% over the period, while online sales were also down, by 15.5% to £22.2m. Pre-tax losses came in at £4m, widening from £1.5m a year earlier. 

By the end of the half-year, Laura Ashley operated 153 UK stores and sold to 10 European countries from its UK website. It also had 80 franchised shops in 20 markets around the world. Its aim at the time was to increase its international reach while moving further into hospitality.

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