Bigger waistlines are boost for 'fuller figure' mail order group

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The Independent Online

Thanks to ever-expanding waistlines, profits have ballooned at the mail order group N Brown, which specialises in frocks for the fuller figure.

The Manchester-based company shrugged off a tough retail climate and posted a 26 per cent rise in annual profits after increasing its range of dress sizes and launching a new range of boots in multiple calf widths. More than half its sales come from clothes of size 20 or above. Despite weak consumer spending, the company is confident about the future as women get bigger - the average dress size across Britain has moved from size 12 to 14 or 16 in recent years.

The company has an increasing part of its clothing range - which starts at size 12 - going to size 34, with some items even size 38. "It's paying dividends," the chief executive Alan White, said. "You never really see the bigger sizes in the high street."

Group sales climbed 8.2 per cent to £484.8m, pushing profits before tax up to £51.8m in the year to 25 February. Since then, sales have advanced 7.1 per cent. The strongest growth has come from N Brown's "younger" customers, aged 30 to 45, while women between 45 and 65 still account for the bulk of turnover. "One of the things that worked extremely well is a range of boots with a variety of calf widths," Mr White said. "Some customers were never able to buy boots before because their calves were too big to fit into the boot."

The company promotes its ranges through mailshots, catalogues and websites, such as Fashion World and Simply Be - its fastest-growing brand last year with sales up 18 per cent. The Glaswegian singer Michelle McManus, who won the Pop Idol television competition in 2003, has been seen in frocks from the Simply Be range, though she has slimmed down recently.

Internet sales shot up to account for 16 per cent of overall revenues last year, and now stand at 20 per cent of turnover.