Laura Ashley in pledge to retain Northern Ireland stores despite posting big loss
Home furnishings and clothing retailer Laura Ashley has said it has no plans to close any of the four stores it owns in Northern Ireland.
It comes after it emerged the company has swung to a loss as a continued decline in its home furnishings business and changes to its website weighed on sales.
The high street stalwart has revealed it made a pre-tax loss of £14.3m in the year to June 30, compared to a profit of £100,000 this time last year.
Excluding exceptional items, the loss before tax came in at £9.8m versus last year's £5.6m profit.
Last December, the company announced the closure of 40 stores across the UK, but none of the shops here were affected by the cutbacks.
Laura Ashley has a presence in Coleraine, Omagh, Bangor and the Boucher Road in south Belfast.
Despite the latest financial difficulties, the company's financial director, Sean Anglim, said there are no plans to scale back the number of stores here in Northern Ireland.
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"We've no plans for closures and we have no plans for expansion at the moment either," he said.
"We're happy with the performance of all four stores, we're happy with the portfolio we have at the moment and no plans to expand or reduce."
Commenting on the overall financial picture for Laura Ashley, the brand's chairman, Andrew Khoo, said: "The last 12 months have proved to be a difficult trading period for the group and indeed for the retail sector as a whole.
"The primary causes for the year-on-year drop in profit have been the performance of Home Furnishing and that of our website following a re-platforming exercise which took place in November 2018."
Within the home category, furniture and decorating were hit especially hard with like-for-like sales down by 9% and 13.7% respectively.
Home accessories, which accounts for the biggest slice of UK sales, rose by 1.1% on a comparable basis but comparable fashion sales were up 9.2%. Meanwhile, the relaunch of the website led to online sales falling 14.2%.
Elsewhere, the group is growing its hospitality business, with nine licensed Laura Ashley tea rooms and two hotels now in operation. The company said it had made "good progress" on expanding the project internationally.
Outside the UK, franchise and licensing revenue was down due to the loss of business in Japan after ending its relationship with retail partner Aeon in September.