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Retail Stars Out at Financo Dinner

NEW YORK — Gap may be in turnaround mode and reducing square footage, but that hasn’t lessened its appetite for global growth. “There is a big opportunity to go international,” said Don Fisher, former chairman and Gap’s...

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NEW YORK — Gap may be in turnaround mode and reducing square footage, but that hasn’t lessened its appetite for global growth. “There is a big opportunity to go international,” said Don Fisher, former chairman and Gap’s largest shareholder, at the Financo dinner Monday night at the Harmonie Club.

Gap two months ago hired Andrew Rolfe as president of its $1.7 billion international division and disclosed it’s exploring alternative business models for overseas stores, including joint ventures, licensing and shop-in-shops. Gap currently operates only company-owned freestanding stores, though as Fisher said at Financo: “As retailers get bigger, they have to change their method doing their business. We are in that situation.” In his extemporaneous remarks, Fisher also gave Gap chief executive Paul Pressler a whole-hearted endorsement. Fisher has been a regular at the annual Financo dinner, which is always held during the week of the National Retail Federation’s annual convention here.

“Fifteen years ago, at the first Financo dinner, it was a select group of retailers discussing their holiday results and plans for the next year,” recalled Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo. “I invited five people to a private room at The Four Seasons. Don was there, with Gordon Siegel, Ken Walker, [the late] George Meyer and Bertraun Maus.”

The dinner has grown into a highly anticipated retail social event with a broad industry representation and a guest list of 300. “I’d say most people were extremely pleased with their holiday results,” Harrison said, and no one more pleased than Burt Tansky, ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group, where comps rose 14.8 percent in December. “Luxury is alive and living at Neiman Marcus,” said Tansky, this year’s winner of the NRF’s Gold Medal Award. “The rich are back in action. Given a choice, I like rich. I’m sure everybody else is nice.”

Keeping retailers party-hopping Monday, KPMG and the NRF hosted a dinner at Le Cirque, and the NRF hosted cocktails at 21. At KPMG, Philippe Houze, ceo of Galeries Lafayette, said his company is creating a 100,000-square-foot annex for home decor in a former Marks & Spencer store, freeing up space for more fashion and renovations at the 500,000-square-foot flagship across the street. It will open in March.

Angel Losada, chairman of Grupo Gigante in Mexico, said in his country, “Business is tough. The economy is not very good.”

Losada, this year’s winner of NRF’s International Retailer of the Year Award, said, “We compete by utilizing regional strategies. We try to differentiate, but it is hard. You can not copy Wal-Mart with everyday low prices. We are high-low.”

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