Mulberry has international growth plans in the bag

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The luxury brand Mulberry is to press ahead with its international expansion plans after a surge in half-year sales and profits.

Mulberry, which is best-known for its handbags favoured by celebrities, currently has 44 UK stores and concessions, with 38 overseas.

But its chief executive Godfrey Davis said: "By the end of next year, we will have more stores outside the UK than in the UK." In addition to new stores in South Korea and a fresh US flagship in New York's Soho in 2011, Mulberry will open its first shop in China in Beijing through a franchise partner in the spring. Mr Davis said China was a "significant market. It has 160 cities the size of Birmingham."

Mulberry's surge in sales and margins drove pre-tax profits up by 207 per cent to £4.7m over the six months to 30 September. Gross margins grew to 63.9 per cent from 55 per cent.

Mulberry – which sells handbags from the Charlie clutch bag at £195 to the Grey Ostrich Bayswater for £4,000 – is now reaping the benefits of overseas expansion, as tourists seek out its stores when they visit other countries, said Mr Davis. "We are beginning to see some return on our investment in international markets," he said.

Group like-for-like sales rose by 29 per cent over the half-year. But they have since accelerated to be up by 47 per cent, including a stunning 66 per cent surge in UK retail sales, for the 10 weeks to 4 December. While Mr Davis said its London stores were benefiting from an influx of European, Asian and Middle Eastern tourists, he said that sales elsewhere in the UK, including in Scotland, had been "very strong".

He added: "The UK consumer is pretty resilient. We have a very wide profile of consumer, some of whom buy a handbag every 18 months, to several a season." Total sales at Mulberry grew by 38 per cent to £44.7m.

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