Festive sales rise for Storehouse

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STOREHOUSE and Laura Ashley yesterday became the latest retailers to cheer the City with encouraging news of Christmas trading, writes Heather Connon.

Storehouse, owner of the BhS, Mothercare and Blazer chains, said its sales in the six weeks to Christmas were 13 per cent ahead of 1992. That has left the cumulative increase in sales for the current year ahead of the 5 per cent reported for the six months to November. The group said that profits remain on target.

The strongest sales rise came at Mothercare, which is being reorganised after a few years of poor performance. A spokesman said the new design - complete with talking trees - now in 13 stores 'clearly had some effect on performance. We think we are getting that business together.'

Blazer, which has also been disappointing in recent years, reported strong sales growth, and the percentage increase at BhS was into double figures, partly because of new selling space.

These stores benefited from extended Christmas shopping. However, there was some discounting at the end of the period and price cuts on other merchandise, which meant that gross margins declined. Analysts estimate they will have fallen by half a point, but cost control should mean the net margin will be unaffected. Storehouse's shares closed 3p lower at 239p.

Laura Ashley, the chintzy clothes retailer, said sales in both Britain and the US rose by about 17.5 per cent in the eight weeks to 25 December, excluding the effect of new store openings. Continental Europe, however, was hit by recession and sales dropped 2.5 per cent, albeit against strong comparatives for Christmas 1992.

In Britain, there was minimal discounting ahead of Christmas and the new year sale has started well, although sale stocks are lower than last year. The shares gained 7p to 85p.