January 16, 2013 5:03 pm

N Brown to open more high street stores

N Brown, the larger size clothes catalogue and online retailer, has offered some rare good news to the battered British high street with plans to open more stores across the UK.

Alan White, chief executive, said the retailer could increase its store base from its current seven shops to about 25 over the next two to three years.

“What we would not want is 200 stores with 25-year [leases] and upward-only rent reviews,” he said. But the chain could “cherry pick the exact locations that we want to be in, and you can negotiate very good terms with the landlords at the moment”.

He added: “Some of our brands have already got a very strong position in the online or home shopping channel. There is a big chunk of the business which we think we can take, but we may just have to be on the high street to get it.”

N Brown’s plans are in contrast to other high street names that are culling their store base, or being forced to shed stores because of corporate failures. About 500 stores are expected to close after the collapse of HMV and Jessops this year.

The comments came as N Brown said sales rose 8.5 per cent in the 19 weeks to January 12. Sales from stores open at least 12 months rose 7.9 per cent, with online sales up 17 per cent, and now accounting for almost 54 per cent of the total sales.

Mr White said the company had benefited from colder weather conditions this autumn, sharpening its prices and improving its marketing through better participation in online searches.

However, this increased costs by £2m. Consequently, full-year pre-tax profit would be in line with expectations.

In contrast, French Connection, the fashion chain, said it would make a bigger than expected loss this year, after its sales fell over the crucial Christmas and New Year period.

It said it expected the pre-tax loss for the year to January 31 to be between £7.5m and £8m, compared with its previous estimate of a deficit of between £5m and £7m.

The bigger than expected loss came after retail like-for-like sales in the UK and continental Europe fell 2.9 per cent in the 24 weeks to 12 January 2013. The company said 1.9 percentage points of the decline was due to the decision to delay its winter sale by a week.

It expected to finish the year with £25m of cash, down from the £34m of cash it reported last time.

Shares in N Brown fell 2 per cent to 364p, while shares in French Connection fell 7 per cent to 27½ p.

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