Laura Ashley appoints PwC administrators

20 March 2020 2 min. read

Amid the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, Laura Ashley has become the first retailer to fall victim to the “significant” drop in trade that the virus has caused. The company has appointed administrators from PwC, putting 2,700 jobs at risk, after struggling for several years.

Laura Ashley is a British textile design company now controlled by the MUI Group of Malaysia. It was founded by Bernard Ashley, an engineer, and his wife Laura Ashley in 1953, growing over the next 20 years to become an international retail chain.

While its sales totalled over £276 million in 2000, however, the following 20 years have seen the firm enter a sustained period of decline. Over the last two decades, the firm has seen profitably tumble on either side of the 2007-8 recession, and its Australian operations have fallen into administration on several occasions. Setbacks were also experienced in the UK operation, and in December 2018 it was announced that 40 stores would close due to poor trading conditions.

Laura Ashley appoints PwC administrators

In February 2019, anticipated poor performance for the financial year was flagged, and this was followed by an expanded annual loss being announced in August, brought about by declining sales of traditional mainstay products even as new ventures in tearooms and hotels were expanding. In February 2020, Laura Ashley narrowly avoided collapse after agreeing an emergency deal with its main lender, the US bank Wells Fargo. While the firm announced new plans to revive the “timeless” designs of its late founder after that, however, Laura Ashley has finally collapsed into administration.

As British retail sees sales figures slump further thanks to the panic induced by the global Coronavirus outbreak, Laura Ashley has become the first UK retail brand to cite the pandemic as a factor in its failure. A statement from the group said that while Laura Ashley had “not yet seen a significant financial impact due to Covid-19,” the virus had “the potential to negatively influence future trading as a result of reduced footfall”.

The retailer appointed Robert Lewis and Zelf Hussain from professional services giant PwC as administrators to Laura Ashley and its subsidiaries, Premier Home Logistics, Laura Ashley Investments and Texplan Manufacturing. The news jeopardises the future of Laura Ashley’s 150 British stores and the jobs of its 2,700 employees.