By  on December 3, 2004

MONTREAL — Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is planning to open its first stores in Canada next year.

The company is currently scouting potential locations and performing due diligence in the Canadian market, according to an A&F spokesman. He said the trendy retailer has been looking at Canada for some time and feels there are strong markets in Canada’s three largest cities of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The spokesman said Abercrombie’s Internet business has been strong, with international sales up 145 percent in the latest quarter. While online sales figures for Canada are not broken down separately, he said the country represents a solid market.

“We track our sales from the Internet and our Canadian sales have grown quite rapidly over the last few years, which confirms our belief there is a demand for us up there,” the spokesman said Thursday.

Currently, all A&F stores are in the U.S., but Canada was a natural first step to expand internationally, he said. Although it is still too early to say how big the Canadian outlets would be, the spokesman suggested they would be at least the size of the company’s U.S. stores, which average 8,500 square feet.

Although most U.S. stores are located in malls, the spokesman wouldn’t rule out opening freestanding stores in Canada if the right locations were found.

A&F would join international chains including Sephora, Zara and H&M that have recently expanded into Canada. Retail consultant John Williams, president of J.C. Williams Group in Toronto, said A&F is coming into a crowded marketplace.

“They have their own niche, but they also overlap with traditional department stores, as well as retailers like Le Chateau, Club Monaco, The Gap and American Eagle,” Williams said. “There’s also European retailers like Zara and H&M, so market share will have to come out of someone’s hide. But having said that, Abercrombie has a very focused approach to the marketplace, so I think they’ll do well here.”

The A&F spokesman didn’t agree with Williams’ assessment of overlapping with other retailers.“We’re in a different business than department stores because we’re vertically integrated and control every aspect of our operations,” he said. “We also feel we do things differently from the other retailers because we offer a lifestyle based on the power of our brand and feel we’re a notch above the competition.”

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