Judge and Jury: Old traditions die hard with Laura Ashley customers - Laura Ashley may have saved itself by recognising the value of its traditional customer base, says Suzanne Ahern, associate director, Attenborough Associates

I am biased when it comes to Laura Ashley. Largely because the beleaguered company was a client of mine until three years ago before I joined Attenborough Associates.

I am biased when it comes to Laura Ashley. Largely because the

beleaguered company was a client of mine until three years ago before I

joined Attenborough Associates.



During that time, I grew to respect its rich heritage and unswerving

belief in its own global appeal. It was easy to become immersed in a

company culture tinged with arrogance. To say, however, that the writing

was on the wall, would be both naive and untrue. Certainly the brand

needed to modernise and it was imperative that a decision was made on

the direction of its products (most notably fashion, not interiors).

Customers were confused, sales fell, Laura Ashley reacted - badly. But

with the initial reaction so wrong, is it realistic to expect the latest

rebirth to be successful?



Judging by the tone of the past year’s press coverage, the obvious

answer is no. The downward spiral of plunging sales, troubled overseas

investments and disastrous attempts at rebranding has seemed endless.

But Laura Ashley is still with us, even if it is on borrowed time. The

brand is still fighting, and the rebirth that we are now witnessing

could be the one that succeeds.



The task of repositioning is a difficult one and has many crucial

factors, but the four that seem most relevant for Laura Ashley are

honesty, communication, audience and product. Brand and design director

Kimball Stoddard is covering the first two points nicely. His honesty

about past mistakes is refreshing, and vital. It’s not a subject which

many companies are happy to discuss in public, but it’s a step towards

reaching his customers. The third point, identifying the audience, also

seems like an obvious one from the outside, but is all too easily

blurred from within a brand. At least the company now seems very clearly

who it is aiming at. And finally the product, which only the passing

seasons can verify. This is assuming, of course, that the brand has

managed in financial terms, to buy itself enough time.



If the balance is right, there’s every chance of this first stage

working for Laura Ashley. Ultimately, the proof of success will be in

the hands of investors and customers. I would imagine the former will

take some time convincing, while the latter, I suspect, will more easily

return.



They have been raised on the Laura Ashley tradition, and it’s a hard one

to break.



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