Laura Ashley to shut 70 stores and axe 721 jobs

By Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter

Laura Ashley has announced the permanent closure of 70 stores, with 721 employees set to lose their jobs.

It comes after the fashion and furnishings retailer announced its intention to hire administrators last week, blaming the impact of coronavirus for tipping it over the edge.

A host of retailers, including John Lewis and Ikea, have announced temporary store closures in the face of the pandemic over the weekend.

However, Laura Ashley is one of the first to announce permanent closures after the virus exacerbated a recent downturn in profitability.

It said it will continue to trade from its remaining 77 UK stores, which will remain open while online operations also continue to trade.

Laura Ashley added that it expects to enter administration later on Monday after appointing advisers from PwC to oversee the process.

Last week, the company said it would enter insolvency after rescue talks were thwarted by the coronavirus outbreak, which has heavily impacted high street firms.

The retailer said 77 stores will remain open (Yui Mok/PA)

It said its administrators will now be working to support employees who are set to be impacted by the raft of closures.

The administrators will also initially focus on talking with interested parties in a bid to secure a buyer for the historic firm.

Katherine Poulter, chief executive officer of the business, said she is “hopeful” that it will find a buyer for the brand.

She added: “Since my appointment just last month, I have shared my vision for the future of this brand, accompanied with a robust turnaround plan to set the future direction of the company and return Laura Ashley to the great British brand that is known and cherished around the world.

“The vision also included reconnecting with our traditional values and our strong British heritage and focusing on developing Laura Ashley as a lifestyle brand.

“I remain unwavering in my belief that Laura Ashley can and should retain the place it deserves in the international retail landscape. Unfortunately, we will lose some brilliant people through no fault of their own.”

Elsewhere, retailer N Brown said it was in talks with its lenders to access more funds after maxing out its current credit facility.

The Jacamo and SimplyBe owner said daily sales have been more than 40% below expectations after a sudden slump in customer demand.

Ted Baker saw its shares slip on Monday after it announced the sale and leaseback of its head office and said a vast majority of its stores have now been shut.

It said more than 90% of its store portfolio has now been shut temporarily due to the virus.

Men’s tailoring business Moss Bros said it is closing all its stores until further notice and has forecasts a significant decline in revenues and profitability for 2021.

It said footfall has fallen dramatically in recent week and expects a “sharper decline in trading performance” due to the virus.