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Debenhams Wolverhampton: Store trialling new concepts as company looks to beat retail blues

Debenhams' new Wolverhampton store has seen "positive" early trading, as it is becomes a pioneer for other stores in the chain.

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Inside Wolverhampton's huge new Debenahms store

The department store brand said it had launched "test labs" in its new stores in Wolverhampton and Stevenage, allowing it to introduce new ideas for its stores, adding that this had seen "very positive initial results".

The new 93,000 sq ft store in the Mander Centre opened its doors for the first time earlier this month, creating 150 jobs.

Despite the positive performance in its newly-opened stores, however, Debenhams has reported a collapse in its annual profits with boss Sergio Bucher bemoaning an "uncertain" trading enviropnment.

The retailer said pre-tax profit fell 44% to £59 million in the year to September 2, with like for like sales in the UK coming in flat.

The company also booked a £36.2 million exceptional charge linked to a restructure being undertaken by the chief executive.

Sales rose 2% to £2.95 billion and Mr Bucher said that Debenhams is "making progress".

"We are making good progress with implementing our new strategy, Debenhams Redesigned, and are encouraged by the results from our initial trials, as well as the number of exciting new partners who want to work with us.

"The environment remains uncertain and we face tough comparatives over the key Christmas weeks."

The chief executive, who took over a year ago, is attempting a turnaround of the firm and the figures show he has made some headway.

Sales of beauty, accessories and food and drink helped to mitigate the impact of a weaker clothing market, Debenhams said, with food sales rising 8%.

Group like-for-like sales in the year rose 2.1%.

However, like other retailers, Debenhams is grappling with soaring inflation linked to the Brexit-hit pound.

To tackle the problems, including soaring inflation figures and constrained consumer spending, Mr Bucher is installing a turnaround plan.

That has seen it trail gyms in stores, upgrade its mobile website, review certain warehouses and stores in a bid to refocus its estate, and to trial new ideas in its newly-opened branches.

His turnaround will also see the group cull in-house brands and leave some international markets, while also shifting around 2,000 staff to customer-facing roles as part of a drive to lure shoppers back to its stores.

He said on Thursday: "We are well prepared for peak trading and the early signs from our activity to date confirm that we are moving in the right direction towards a successful and profitable future for Debenhams."