Moss Bros eyes 40 new shops in 'buyer's market'

Moss Bros, the men's branded suit specialist, has revealed ambitious plans to grow its store numbers by nearly 40 per cent as it seeks to take advantage of a soft retail property market during the economic downturn.

Michael Hitchcock, Moss Bros's finance director, said it was a "buyer's market" and had recently identified 40 "preferred locations" for new Moss stores. He added: "The market is so much in favour of the buyer and you can roll out stores for very little cash outlay because landlords will do deals but you have got to have a good covenant. They will not do deals with any Tom, Dick or Harry."

The group has 104 Moss fascias, 19 outlet shops, six Savoy Taylors Guilds, two Canalis, one Simon Carter, 10 Cecil Gee stores and 16 Boss franchise outlets.

Robust retailers are finding that landlords, with scores of vacant shops, are increasingly willing to offer financial concessions such as rent-free periods and contributions to shop-fitting fees. "You can fit out shops and it will not cost you a penny," said Mr Hitchcock.

Mr Hitchcock wouldn't say exactly how many stores Moss Bros would open in this financial year or next, but said: "If you look at the run rate over the past five to eight years, the business is very capable of opening eight to 10 stores a year." Of its total annual rental bill, up to three-quarters now takes the form of monthly payments, instead of quarterly.

For the 16 weeks to 23 May, Moss Bros said that like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new space, fell by 3.9 per cent. Mr Hitchcock declined to comment on current trade, but sales of suits are thought to be robust. The company said that for the period to 23 May, unit sales of suits were up by 27 per cent, as men who fear for their jobs smarten up or dress-to-impress for interviews. Mr Hitchcock said: "They don't want to stand out as the scruffy one in the office."

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