Country Casuals thinks big with Elvi chain expansion

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COUNTRY CASUALS, the women's wear retailer, aims to capitalise on the growing market for larger- size clothes with the rapid expansion of its Elvi chain, acquired as part of its purchase of House of Lerose, writes Heather Connon.

The group opened 21 Elvi outlets last year, including three concessions in department stores, and a further 23 will be trading by the end of May. John Shannon, Country Casuals' chief executive, said that a third of women - and half those aged 45 and over - were size 16 and above. 'We think the market has tremendous potential,' he added.

Elvi will be one of the few retailers dedicated to offering larger sizes. Its chief rival is Evans, owned by Sears, but Elvi is targeting more well-heeled customers.

Elvi was a key attraction in the pounds 10.8m purchase of House of Lerose, which also manufactures clothing for a range of retailers. The cost of closing the wholesale and printing divisions meant that House of Lerose lost pounds 45,000 in the eight months of ownership, holding Country Casuals' profits steady at pounds 2.6m.

Earnings, diluted by the shares issued to fund the deal, fell from 10.64p to 9.57p a share. The final dividend was increased by 9 per cent to 2.89p, making a total of 4.3p. That compares with a pro forma 4.05p in 1992, when the company was floated.