By  on August 28, 2009

LONDON — Liberty plc, the retail and fabrics company, has narrowed its net losses in the past six months and recorded double-digit sales growth — and is now seeking an investor to fuel expansion.

In the six months to June 30, the company recorded a net loss of 2.7 million pounds, or $4 million, compared with a loss of 4.4 million pounds, or $6.5 million, in the same period last year. Dollar figures have been calculated at average exchange rates for the period. Revenue, meanwhile, rose 17.6 percent during the period to 25.3 million pounds, or $37.6 million, compared with 21.5 million pounds, or $32 million, a year ago.

The company recorded a positive operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of 30,000 pounds, or $44,700, for the half. Liberty chairman Richard Balfour-Lynn noted it was the first positive EBITDA figure Liberty had recorded in 10 years.

Geoffroy de La Bourdonnaye, chief executive officer of Liberty, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the company’s bottom-line growth has been driven by factors including its fabric sales, which rose 28 percent during the period; sales at its flagship, which grew by 12 percent, and sales of its Liberty of London products. The Liberty of London brand is poised to become more profitable, de La Bourdonnaye added, after the company closed the label’s stand-alone store on Sloane Street, a move Liberty estimates will save 500,000 pounds, or $810,000, a year.

The rise in sales also follows a partial redesign of the company’s Regent Street store, unveiled last February, and efforts to raise Liberty’s profile. The company has recently collaborated with artist Grayson Perry on a line of fabrics and will unveil an Hermès pop-up shop in September, which will carry Hermès scarves rendered in Liberty fabrics. The company said collaborations with Apple and MAC Cosmetics are also in the pipeline. De La Bourdonnaye said he believed this return to the store’s “heritage” had helped the company to weather the tough trading conditions.

Now, as a result of its ongoing strategic review, de La Bourdonnaye said the company is seeking additional investors to fuel its growth. “A decision has been made by the shareholders that we need to raise equity, not just debt, to fund investment in the future,” said de La Bourdonnaye, adding the company would consider taking on either majority or minority shareholders. “It will happen when it makes sense. We believe Liberty has huge potential and we are looking for investors prepared to recognize that.”

Liberty plc is 68 percent owned by Marylebone Warwick Balfour Group plc, while the remaining 32 percent of shares are quoted on London’s AIM secondary market. De La Bourdonnaye plans to channel any investment to fund the continuing refurbishment of the retailer’s flagship store on Regent Street and the development of its transactional Web site.

And the store has yet more exclusive projects planned — it will host designer Marcus Constable’s show on Sept. 20, during London Fashion Week. The designer’s fall collection is currently exclusive to the store. Liberty has also revamped and expanded its in-store magazine. Edited and published in-house with art direction by Tank, the magazine — called at Liberty — carries stories ranging from the merits of British design and manufacturing to pointers on how to wear the latest jeans to a lingerie fashion shoot done with Polaroid film.

The twice-yearly magazine, which carries advertising from brands including Calvin Klein, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood Accessories, goes to Liberty cardholders and is available in-store. “I have no doubt we have the products, people and infrastructure in place to take full advantage of any upswing in retail spending,” said Balfour-Lynn. “I view the future with a degree of cautious confidence.”

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