Laura Ashley to target young home buyers following weak sales

LONDON, Sept 25 Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:41am EDT

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LONDON, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Britain's Laura Ashley plans to tap in to the recovery in the housing market by targeting a younger clientele for its homewares division after a lacklustre performance from its fashion range hurt sales and its shares.

Famous for its feminine and floral designs, the 60-year-old firm said it planned to make its furniture, home accessories and decorating ranges more appealing to 25 to 35-year-olds who are looking to buy properties for the first time.

"Homeware has been the most important for the last 10 years or so," Finance Director Sean Anglim told Reuters, adding that any rise in consumer confidence would take time to fizzle through to retailers.

"(The) 25 to 35-year-old age group, they're buying new houses now, and Laura Ashley is able to offer them anything to decorate their home, for any part of their home. We believe we can offer them good value and a very diverse range, from traditional to extremely contemporary".

The focus on the homewares division follows a disappointing performance from the group's fashion division which posted a 6.9 percent fall in sales in the 26 weeks to July 27, helping to drag total group sales down by 5.6 percent.

That drop took group sales to 137.3 million pounds ($219.5 million), while profit before tax slipped 0.9 million pounds on last year to 7.4 million pounds.

Like-for-like trading slipped by 1.3 percent in the eight weeks to 21 September, again due to the continued underperformance in its fashion business.

Shares in the group were down 10.5 percent in mid-morning trading to 23.9 pence, giving it a market valuation of 174 million pounds.

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