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Financo Dinner Draws Retail Heavyweights

Call it hustle and flow. That was the game at the 18th Annual Merchandising Industry Chief Executives seminar and dinner, hosted by Financo Inc. at the Harmonie Club...

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Meanwhile, premium denim sales are still strong, with the so-called sweet spot at $175, topping out at $300. "Dolce & Gabbana would probably rip it up, and the more ripped up and shredded it is, the more expensive it is," Gold said.

But if business has been good at the high end among U.S. stores, it's been even better overseas.

Also on the panel, Bonnie Brooks, president of Lane Crawford Joyce Group, said the retailer's business "was nothing short of sensational" at holiday. "Christmas was our best ever this year," she said, citing mind-boggling comp sales gains of 50 percent in some stores.

So far, her company is not planning for any luxury slowdown. "Quite the opposite — we are moving forward with our expansion," she said of the group, which now has 300 stores in China in 22 cities. "It's not just Beijing and Shanghai," she said.

Brooks noted that expansion can sometimes be difficult. "One of the challenges is rolling out in appropriate locations. Quality space is limited," she said.

In addition, e-commerce is still in a slow-moving pattern across Asia. While Brooks sees it as a growth opportunity down the road, the Asian customer's primary experience so far is "carrying out the [purchase] in a shopping bag."

But she stressed Lane Crawford has no plans to expand into the U.S. One overseas retailer who does, Baugur International, also was at the conference and dinner, and had everyone in the room wondering whether it would proceed with a bid for Saks.

Jón Asgeir Jóhannesson, Baugur's executive chairman, was relatively tight-lipped, saying only: "Saks is an opportunity." He added that Baugur, which has extensive holdings in Iceland and the U.K., is "always actively looking in the U.S."

Jóhannesson spoke of how his firm has evolved from a privately owned grocery store to a conglomerate of 60 brands, mostly retail-focused ranging from toys, jewelry and fashion, that has a combined volume of $20 billion. But he noted that Baugur has been expanding more and more in the fashion sector. A key U.K. holding is the House of Fraser, while a top-notch U.S. apparel brand under the Baugur umbrella is Karen Millen.
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