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The company has been slowly building personnel. “We are hiring more people in terms of supporting growth in international and licensing. We’re growing head count in a cautious way,” said Leavitt.
Eileen Fisher is expanding on several fronts. “The Web is going crazy. It’s our biggest store. It’s three to four stores in one,” said Eileen Fisher. She said she’s hired people to visually revamp the Web, which has been in operation for five years. Fisher said the brand also is doing more print advertising, as well as outdoor ads on phone shelters and posters in Manhattan’s SoHo.
Fisher, which has 51 stores, added eight units last year. It recently opened a store in St. Louis and plans to open another one in Pasadena later this month. While the company doesn’t have stores overseas (“one of my next priorities,” said Fisher), it wholesales in areas such as the Middle East, Canada, Israel and South Africa.
The designer said the goal is to “intergenerationalize” the company. “I have a 17-year-old daughter and she’s started to wear the clothes. It’s because the clothes are different this year. We’re getting mother-daughter teams,” she said. Fisher said handbags, scarves and belts are selling extremely well, and she’d like to expand the footwear category.
Another new concept at the firm is the EF Lab Store, which is a section of the store dedicated to recycled clothing. “We take slightly used and worn [Eileen Fisher] clothing from our employees and clean them and resell them, and all the money goes to charity,” she said. The company also takes back worn Eileen Fisher clothing from customers and gives them a $5 reward card for each item they bring in. Since the Lab store opened in September in Irvington, N.Y., across from company headquarters, some $72,825 has been generated from the sale of 1,773 Eileen Fisher recycled garments. Proceeds benefit girls’ and women’s initiatives.
Overall, the company’s sales are running 27 percent ahead for the season compared with last year and are 16 percent ahead of plan. Wholesale accounts are up 20 percent on comp doors in both specialty and department stores. Fall bookings are up 14 percent over last year. “We had our biggest month this past March at Bloomingdale’s. We were up 49 percent,” said Fisher.
“The year is going very well,” she continued. “Last year was a tougher year. Our numbers are even up from the previous year.” In 2009, Eileen Fisher generated $270 million in sales versus $273 million in 2008. “We are hiring again carefully and strategically,” added Fisher.
Fisher also is making more store appearances. “It’s the transformative time we’re in. I wanted to find out personally what’s going on with the customer.” She plans to do a handful of personal appearances this year in cities such as Chevy Chase, Md.; San Francisco; Denver, and Chicago.
Michael Kramer, president and ceo of Kellwood Co., said the company has come through 18 months of reorganization and “continues to invest in retail expansion.”
Kellwood opened 10 stores for Vince last year, unveiled a store in Atlanta on April 16 and plans four to five more units this year. In addition, he said, “we are starting to put more money into advertising.” For instance, he’s looking to do more advertising for Vince in high-end magazines, as well as local and regional ones. Vince has 13 stores in total, all of which are presently in the U.S., but the company has been scouting a location in London.
Meantime, Kellwood is on the hunt for acquisitions. Kramer said Kellwood would like to acquire companies with between $30 million and $1 billion in sales. He said he’s looking for “brands that have the potential to be $100 million-plus.” Among the targets are firms in the juniors’, women’s and teen-plus categories. “We have three letters of intent right now. One brand is primarily in leather and accessories [handbags]. They do branded and private label. I could grow the brand and Vince could do its handbags in-house with them.”
Sun Capital Partners Inc. acquired Kellwood for $762 million in February 2008. “Because we were going through a lot of restructuring, we had right-sized the organization. We had a couple of rounds of layoffs. In certain areas, we are hiring again,” said Kramer.
“They bought us as an investment and they believe in our strategy,” he continued. “Normally, the hold time is five years. They have an enormous amount of capital. We will reach a certain point where we will go public” or sell to a financial or strategic investor.
Monica Belag Forman, president of Magaschoni, said the focus for the brand has been to find more specialty stores in which to sell, opening its own freestanding stores, e-commerce and doing trunk shows. The company recently opened a more than 2,000-square-foot store in East Hampton, N.Y. It also has been doing more trunk shows around the country. She also is investing in Magaschoni’s e-commerce site.
Right now, 80 percent of the business is done with specialty stores and 20 percent with department stores. Besides East Hampton, the company has stores in London; Greenwich, Conn., and Southampton, N.Y. “We’re looking in Manhattan,” she said. She also has four in-store shops at Searle.
“We picked up a lot of new business. Last year, we were one of the resources that didn’t get edited out. We performed during the crash. I didn’t lose accounts, just those who didn’t have credit. It forced me to find new stores to sell.”