Retailer Laura Ashley is looking to Asia and the Middle East for growth as like-for-like sales from its UK stores fell by nearly 10% in the 20 weeks to 13 December.

Total UK store sales were up 9.7% in the period, thanks to the increase in selling space, but like-for-likes fell 9.9% as the economic downturn impacted trading.

However, the company said its franchise and licensing network was continuing to grow, encouraging the belief that trading would be in line with board expectations.

Its Asian partner had embarked on a programme to open 80 stores in China over the next five years, while its Middle East partner was committed to expanding the brand over the same period.

Meanwhile, Laura Ashley's direct retail business showed a 55% increase in internet revenues, offset by a 26% slump in mail order business.

"Although the outlook remains extremely challenging, we will continue to focus on increasing revenue generation through our various channels, improving operational efficiencies, differentiating our product offering and continuing our store realignment programme, subject to our stringent property selection criteria," said the company.