Clothing retailer Austin Reed appointed a new chief executive today in a bid to spark a trading revival after annual profits fell 84%.

The group said Nick Hollingworth's experience as managing director of the mainstream division of Arcadia, which includes Dorothy Perkins and Burton, would be of "immense value" as it battles to bounce back from a difficult year.

Disruption caused by a revamp of its flagship store in London's Regent Street contributed to pre-tax profits falling to £1.2 million in the 53 weeks to January 31 from £7.5 million a year ago.

Tough conditions on the high street also took their toll, with like-for-like sales falling 9.7% to £109.3 million last year.

But encouraging trends had emerged in recent trading following a repositioning of the group, with like-for-like sales flat in the first nine weeks of the current year.

As well as 49 stores and 41 concessions trading as Austin Reed, the company sells womenswear from 66 stores and 140 concessions under the Country Casuals brand and has licensing operations.

David Lowbridge, acting group chief executive, said: "We are now in a better position to deliver improvements in sales and profits, and early results from changes being implemented are showing some encouraging trends."

Bottom-line profits of £3.3 million in 2003, down from £7.5 million a year ago, were boosted by a £2.1 million gain on property sales.

Wednesday April 07, 2004