LONDON — L.K. Bennett is on an aggressive international growth drive, and is focusing in particular on the U.S. market.
The British accessories and ready-to-wear brand that began life as a footwear retailer will open its first New York flagship on April 1 at The Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center.
The 2,100-square-foot store, which will be located on the second floor of the building, is the brand’s fifth stand-alone unit in the U.S., following openings in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Hackensack, N.J., in 2011. There are 10 more stores planned in major cities across the U.S. over the next three years.
The brand also sells through seven Bloomingdale’s locations, and for the spring season will roll out to 18 Nordstrom stores.
To further its ambitions in the U.S., the company has opened offices and a showroom space on the corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue, not far from the Coach flagship.
“It’s our moment, and we are doing well,” said Robert Bensoussan, executive chairman and chief executive, during an interview at the company’s townhouse headquarters near Oxford Circus here. He said L.K. Bennett has positioned itself as somewhere between a high street and a luxury brand.
“It’s accessible luxury: We’re delivering the right product at a reasonable price, and the brand remains aspirational for a lot of people who see it as a stylish investment.”
The average price point of the shoes is 170 pounds, or $269 at current exchange, while the average one for a bag is 325 pounds, or $514. Prices, Bensoussan said, are about 20 percent higher in the U.S.
He also has ambitions outside the U.S.: This year the brand will open eight concessions at Printemps and seven at Galeries Lafayette. Four concessions are planned for El Corte Inglés in Spain and another four are set for de Bijenkorf, the Dutch department store. Franchises will also open in Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon and Kuala Lumpur later this year.
When Bensoussan bought L.K. Bennett in 2008 with Phoenix Equity Partners, 100 percent of the company’s sales came from the U.K. Today, about 15 percent of sales come from international markets, and Bensoussan said he expects that figure to grow to 40 percent in the next three to four years through a combination of directly operated stores, franchises, and wholesale accounts.
L.K. Bennett has also made new hires to ramp-up its international expansion: Paul-Henri Cecillon was named group commercial director, while Brett Johnson became group retail director. Both are newly created positions.
Cecillon, a former manager at the French fashion brand Sinequanone and at Habitat, will build the retail and wholesale businesses in the U.K. and internationally. Johnson, who reports to Cecillon, will be responsible for retail both in the U.K. and internationally. He was previously at AllSaints, where he was retail director for the U.K. and Europe.
Bensoussan is aiming to hit sales of 100 million pounds, or $158 million, in revenue this year, up from the current 80 million pounds, or $126 million. Footwear and bags make up about 60 percent of the business, while rtw generates the remaining 40 percent.
For spring, L.K. Bennett plans to launch Black Ribbon, a capsule collection of rtw made with luxury fabrics. It will sell at Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdale’s New York and about 10 L.K. Bennett shops worldwide. Bensoussan said the new collection is 30 to 40 percent more expensive than what is in store now, and that L.K. Bennett created the collection at the request of its customers.
Bensoussan, a veteran fashion and luxury investor, was the first to spot the potential in the Jimmy Choo business back in 2001. He purchased that company through a private equity vehicle for 20 million pounds, or $31.6 million at current exchange. Last year Jimmy Choo was sold to Labelux in a deal estimated at 549 million pounds, or $867.4 million.
Asked about the similarities between the two businesses, and whether his approach to building brands had changed, Bensoussan said: “Jimmy Choo was a small wholesale company that turned into a retailer, and then moved into new product categories like bags. And we kept everything very exclusive. L.K. is a different world. It was a pure retailer, and we’re building a wholesale business. Right now just 5 to 6 percent of the business is wholesale, but it’s going to grow massively for us. Also, we’re playing on three major product categories —shoes, bags and rtw — and creating a balance between design, quality and price,” he said.
Going forward, Bensoussan said there is a major opportunity with the online business — the online store’s revenues are triple those of its biggest flagship — and there are plans to launch a U.S. Web site in the next 18 to 24 months.
As for the challenges of doing business today, Bensoussan said they’re no different from what his competitors are facing.
“The market is difficult, and people are cautious about their spending. The cake isn’t getting any bigger, so we need to take business from other people. But it’s fine — it just forces everyone to be lean and mean.”
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