By  on November 8, 2005

DALLAS — Cole Haan plans to rev up its brand profile by opening more stores in the U.S., China and Europe, and expanding its product mix.

With the backing of parent company Nike, Cole Haan intends to expand by 35 to 40 stores in the U.S. within the next five years, which would bring the chain to 85 to 90 units in this country, said Gordon Thompson, creative director and executive vice president. Over the same period, Thompson is looking to enlarge Cole Haan's international business, which includes five freestanding stores and 30 in-store shops, all in Japan.

"We are going to go into warp speed of opening stores," Thompson said during a visit here last week for a lunch with top customers at Neiman Marcus. "For this brand to control its destiny, it's important to have retail."

During his five-year tenure, Thompson has helped restyle Cole Haan from a classic shoe company that did 65 percent of its business with men to a fashion brand with sales evenly split between men and women. A big part of the women's sales increase stemmed from introducing coats and embellished handbags, he said. A sweater line launched this fall will be expanded next spring.

"The knits and coats are selling well, so it seems like sportswear would be an obvious move," he said, declining to specify a target date.

Thompson declined to discuss sales figures. However, the business has grown "significantly," he said.

Cole Haan introduced handbags in 2000 and licensed G III to produce outerwear the same year.

The company is developing a more individual logo. Thompson has handwritten a Cole Haan script logo that will begin replacing the longstanding block letters next spring, with full rollout in spring 2007. "It's a very handmade product, and I felt the logo should reflect that," Thompson said.

Thompson said he is eager to move the design studio in three weeks from crowded quarters on 54th Street in Manhattan to a 37,000-square-foot space on 18th Street that will also house staff for marketing, merchandising and image.

"Over the next five years, it's about how to hone our image in fashion and how to connect with consumers worldwide," Thompson said. "I would like Cole Haan to be known as a casual, chic American brand and take it into a full lifestyle. We could do eyewear and home, but ultimately I want to grow it as a brand."The firm will open its 50th U.S. store Friday at NorthPark Center in Dallas. The 2,748-square-foot store is Cole Haan's second in the city and reflects a strategy to develop business by layering stores into major metropolitan areas that can handle multiple doors.

"It gives us an opportunity to go into neighborhoods instead of megamalls," Thompson said.

Cole Haan last month opened a second unit in Houston at the Galleria mall. It is the second store in the company to sell only women's merchandise. The next Cole Haan store is to open in January in San Antonio at the Shops at La Cantera, a new open-area pedestrian mall.

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