Bodyshop set to launch £100m global expansion

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The Body Shop yesterday unveiled plans for a £100m expansion drive that will see it open 300 new shops around the world. Peter Saunders, the chief executive, said the bulk of the new shops, which will look more upmarket than its existing 2,000-strong global estate, would be in the United States.

The company is hoping its new, more stylish look will help it tackle sliding sales in the UK, which remains its main problem area. Underlying sales across Britain and Ireland fell 13 per cent last year, while operating profit was 46 per cent lower at £10m.

Adrian Bellamy, the chairman, yesterday admitted comparable sales in the UK would continue to slide this year, although he was adamant the trend would improve. "The US was in worse shape than the UK two years ago," he said, adding: "I'm really very positive about the UK. There is less competition than in the US so we are not up against quite so many hurdles."

Mr Bellamy said there was scope to expand its 300-strong UK estate to as many as 400 to 500 stores, reiterating the group's commitment to the high street just 24 hours after Dixons signalled its intention to retreat to larger, edge-of-town sites. He said the group liked its high street sites, but added: "Over time, our shop size will increase."

The company provided further proof that the US, its former problem child, was on the mend. Although like-for-like sales across the Americas slipped 1 per cent last year, operating profit across the region doubled to £19.3m.

Mr Bellamy said the group's attempts to reposition itself as a so-called "masstige" retailer - selling prestige products but at mass market prices - was behind its improved performance. "We look much more "masstige" in the Americas than in the UK, which is why we are getting results there," he said, referring to the makeover its US-based stores have already received.

Evidence of the company's turnaround, which follows years of underperformance, helped its shares to rise 9p to 144.5p.

The group, which trades in 50 countries, reported a 40 per cent rise in preliminary pre-tax profits to £28.5m on flat retail sales of £381.1m. Mr Bellamy said there was scope to expand into more countries, citing Asia, central America and eastern Europe as the most likely areas. The group said its new financial year had started in line with its expectations and it foresaw another year of progress, despite the continued weakness of the dollar, which would hit its results for the current year.