Laura Ashley to close 40 UK stores amid a push into China

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Originally based in Wales, Laura Ashley grew from a small factory in Carno

Fashion and home furnishings retailer Laura Ashley will close some 40 stores in the UK as it plans to expand its presence in China.

Laura Ashley, which is owned by Malayan United Industries (MUI), has already closed some 40 UK stores since 2015.

Retailers in the UK have had a difficult year as consumer confidence wanes and fewer shoppers visit stores.

A recent report has shown that some 14 shops are closing every day in the UK amid the tough trading climate.

Andrew Khoo Boo Yeow, MUI’s newly appointed executive chairman, told reporters in Malaysia earlier this month that he expected the business to see some tough headwinds across the next two years.

He also said MUI would be restructuring some arms of its business and rationalising assets.

Mr Khoo said that he wanted to see fewer Laura Ashley stores, but that he had plans to expand other stores.

“It’s more about showcasing the brand,” he told the Press Association. “It doesn’t really matter if [customers] buy online or offline, we just want them to get inspired.

“It’s a challenging environment and it could become more challenging,” he said.

Mr Khoo said the number of UK stores would be reduced to 120 from 160 and that the firm would look at moving staff from any stores that are closing to larger outlets.

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Critics have said the Laura Ashley brand has failed to stay relevant

At the beginning of this year the company issued a profit warning after reporting disappointing 2017 Christmas trading figures.

The news sent shares reeling. At one point they fell 26%, pulled back to a 4% loss and were down 8% by the close.

Originally based in Wales, Laura Ashley grew from a small factory in Carno to become one of the world’s leading clothing brands in the 1970s and 1980s.

But analysts have said the brand has failed to stay relevant. The retailer had hoped the launch of a new digital platform in the second half of 2018 would help boost its offerings, but critics have said the firm’s e-commerce offerings are not up to standard yet.

More recently, the retailer has invested in hotels. The first Laura Ashley branded hotel was opened in 2013. The firm currently has two: Laura Ashley The Manor in Elstree and Laura Ashley The Belsfield in the Lake District.

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