By  on March 21, 2011

CHICAGO — As part of its ongoing international expansion, British retailer L.K. Bennett will this spring unveil its first U.S. stores here and in Atlanta, with plans to open 30 to 40 more locations during the next three to five years.

The move comes at a time when the company, which gained prominence in the U.K. for its shoe collection, is growing its wholesale apparel and accessories business here, planning to increase its 10-door presence at Nordstrom and add to the four shop-within-shops managed as concessions at Bloomingdale’s.

“We’re going to go slowly,” said Robert Bensoussan, L.K. Bennett’s executive chairman. Bensoussan, who orchestrated the successful international retail rollout of Jimmy Choo, said this expansion will be more gradual and less scattered, representing a more focused, deeper approach in targeted markets.

Bensoussan’s Sirius Equity, along with Phoenix Equity Partners, purchased the roughly 20-year-old L.K. Bennett from founder Linda Bennett in 2008 for 75 million pounds, or $120 million. He expects only four U.S. stores will open by next fall, noting the brand is scouting for sites in New York and Boston as well as cities in New Jersey and Florida. Bensoussan plans to use those early locations as testing grounds to see how the U.S. market responds to the brand and to determine which category — clothing, shoes or accessories — sells the best.

Although executives have talked about introducing a second higher-priced line, Bensoussan said “it’s too premature to discuss today,” noting the company is focused on developing its handbag and jewelry collections, which account for roughly 20 percent of its global business. The remaining segment is split equally, with shoes and clothing each at 40 percent, he said.

Since joining L.K. Bennett, Bensoussan has established a new management team and opened locations in Paris, launched wholesale accounts in Germany and recently signed franchise agreements for some 20 freestanding stores to open in the Middle East during the next five years. Bensoussan is trying to position L.K. Bennett as a design-driven international retail brand with a luxury twist.

In the U.S., the brand’s first store will debut in Chicago on the third floor of the 900 Shops at 900 N. Michigan Avenue. The 1,800-square-foot space is located near other British retailer Karen Millen and is estimated to generate annual sales of $1 million. Predicted bestsellers include a $575 snake print Anna bag, the $375 Davina wool dress and $325 Wilder silk jersey leopard print dress.

Overall, dresses average $275, with footwear ranging from $145 for sandals to $600 for boots and handbags spanning $185 to $595. In Atlanta, a 1,750-square-foot location is scheduled to open on May 15 at Phipps Plaza next to Vince. Both U.S. stores will reflect the decor of other newer L.K. Bennett locations, which boast mirrored displays, glass chandeliers, woolen rugs, and a beige and soft powder pink color palette.

Global annual sales are estimated at 100 million pounds, or $160 million, with roughly 86 percent of revenues coming from the U.K. The brand operates 66 freestanding stores and 54 concessions.

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