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Laura Ashley to shut 40 UK stores to aid China focus

(c) Sky News 2018: <a href="http://news.sky.com/story/laura-ashley-to-shut-40-uk-stores-to-aid-china-focus-11583769">Laura Ashley to shut 40 UK stores to aid China focus</a>
 

Laura Ashley (LSE: ALY.L - news) is to further reduce its number of the stores in the UK as part of a fresh growth strategy by the chain's owner.

The home furnishings-to-fashion retailer said it was to build on 40 earlier closures since 2015 by taking its portfolio from 160 sites currently to 120.

But it added that the plans were at an early stage and job losses would be kept to a minimum as it would enlarge many of the stores where it continued to operate.

Growth in China was to be the priority, Malayan United Industries (Kuala Lumpur: 3891.KL - news) (MUI) said, with store growth to follow there once a strong online customer base had been established.

It marked the first major investment decision by Andrew Khoo - who took over as MUI chairman from his father Khoo Kay Peng last week.

He told the Press Association: "The direction I want to go is to have not so many stores, but maybe the ones we have could 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."

"We're moving to Asia in a much bigger way. "We have a regional office in Singapore, it's a dedicated office of about 10 people and it's focused purely on ecommerce into China.

"Once we get a significant foothold in digital retail in China we can look at the physical stores rollout."

:: Shoppers shun high street on peak Xmas weekend

British retailers have had a difficult year as high street footfall declines and consumer confidence wanes in the run-up to Brexit.

Last week Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley bemoaned the " worst November in living memory " while even the owner of Primark - a consistent performer since the financial crisis - has seen sales tail off.

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 had been slow to shift big-ticket items like furniture.

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

"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."