ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Chico's FAS Inc. is expanding on all fronts.
The company on Tuesday held its first annual shareholders meeting outside of Florida at the Biltmore Estate here, with about 150 people in attendance. What they heard was a company presentation recapping the year, while highlighting the anticipation of steady growth year-over-year.
And, in an exclusive interview after the meeting, Chico's chief operating officer and chief financial officer Charles Kleman showcased just what that growth could be down the road.
"The performance of White House|Black Market [at this point in time] is almost a mirror of what Chico's was like in 1997 and 1998 before it started its big growth spurt," said Kleman.
The White House|Black Market so far has "only reached 2 percent to 3 percent of its potential customer [base] penetration," he continued.
The company hopes to change that by expanding the size of the stores — the new ones will be about 1,800 to 2,500 square feet — and adding about 60 percent more inventory than last year. The larger format will allow the retailer to have more product density and, in turn, result in greater in-stock sizing options for the customer, the cfo noted.
White House|Black Market same-store sales in May rose 30 percent from a year ago, partly because of the debut of television advertising from April through May as well as increased product density in the stores, company executives said.
Kleman expects comps gains for the rest of the year, "especially as Web sales will begin in September after Labor Day."
There is about a 20 percent overlap between the Chico's customer base and White House| Black Market, company executives noted.
Another expansion opportunity is Soma by Chico's, the firm's lingerie concept store. Chico's operates 10 freestanding Soma stores, and expects to open between four and six more this year.
"There's an opportunity for us because department stores are so promotional [and] Victoria's Secret is chasing after a younger customer. The department store customer is complaining about overassortment and a sea of bras in an intimidating environment," said Charles Nesbit Jr., executive vice president for operations at Chico's.Soma's main category offerings are bras and sleepwear. The concept will include more depth to its bra inventory, including fabrications and memory foam, while sleepwear is mostly novelty driven and can cross over with the fashion element at Chico's.
Kleman and Nesbit agreed that Soma has the potential to be a "$1 billion opportunity" down the road, with the current plan to grow it to "500 stores and $200 million in sales." The executives did not provide a timetable for either the 500 store count or when Soma might hit $1 billion in sales.
With all the growth and expansion on the agenda, the company is also planning a new corporate headquarters.
"We just contracted to buy 105 acres in Florida and also just hired TVA Architects," said Scott Edmonds, president and chief executive officer.
The company said on June 9 that it was considering a purchase of land on the corner of Alico Road and I-75 in Fort Myers, Florida.
According to Edmonds, the new site will house a headquarters campus for all three of its divisions under one roof. The firm's current headquarters is a 147,000-square-foot facility on 35 acres in Lee County in Fort Myers. The new one, at the corner of Alico Road, will be built in three phases. Phase one will be complete in 2007 or 2008, with the completion of all three phases by 2020. Portland, Oregon-based TVA, which designed the Nike campus facility, will work with Chico's to design a similar type of structure.
So far, the retailer plans to open a total of 110 to 120 stores in the current year, including the four to six new Soma stores; 45 new White House|Black Market stores, and the balance under the Chico's nameplate.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
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Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast