Judge and Jury: Laura Ashley’s floral motif has withered the chain’s fortunes - Laura Ashley desperately needs to modernise its image if it is to survive on the high street, says St John White, account manager at Key Communications

News that Laura Ashley is selling its US chain for just dollars 1 highlights the poor state in which the once booming fashion retailer finds itself.

News that Laura Ashley is selling its US chain for just dollars 1

highlights the poor state in which the once booming fashion retailer

finds itself.



What went so wrong with the business that once represented the

quintessential English rose?



Things began to fall apart soon after the sudden death of its eponymous

founder in the mid-1980s, just before the group’s flotation on the Stock

Market. Since then, the business has had seven chief executives,

culminating most recently with the appointment of TV evangelist Pat

Robertson to the board, prompting jokes that the chain was praying for a

miracle.



The issues facing Laura Ashley are two-fold. Global expansion, with

backing from its major shareholder Malaysian United Industries, has

over-stretched the group to a point where closures, especially in the US

have become almost commonplace. At the same time, the Laura Ashley brand

has become diluted to the point of irrelevance to its target market.



While Stephen Cox, the company secretary, paints a bullish picture of

the brand being ’incredibly strong on a world wide basis’, one has to

question the validity of an image that is perceived by most to be stuck

in the past.



When fashion retailers such as Next, Dorothy Perkins and even dear old

M&S moved with the times to address the challenges of new entrants such

as Gap, Laura Ashley’s middle-England feel remained. The result is that

many potential Laura Ashley customers now feel little or no empathy for

the brand.



The dire financial problems in the US, which contributed largely to the

pounds 31.9 million loss for this year represent the lowest point for

the business.



Brave decisions need to be taken on the future direction of the

business.



Should it refocus on its core ’Britishness’ and find a new vision for

its place in the UK high streets? It will take clear management and some

savvy PR to effectively communicate the changing personality of the

brand to investors and the high street.



The real issue here is not how well Laura Ashley’s management spun the

sale announcement, but how they start rebuilding the brand. I suspect we

will know when things are on the up for Laura Ashley when a more

contemporary feel is injected into the brand. Only then will they regain

their appeal to any significant size of the market.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in