By  on November 26, 2007

Seeking to reestablish itself in the U.S. market, Esprit Holdings Ltd. picked one of Manhattan's highest-profile locations to open a flagship at the start of the holiday season — Rockefeller Center at Fifth Avenue.

The $4 billion specialty retail chain, founded 39 years ago in San Francisco, has its sights set on slowly growing its U.S. business after a successful repositioning effort in Asia.

In the global group's most recent year-end period, earnings jumped 39 percent as sales showed a 27 percent gain. Jerome Griffith, president of Esprit North America, said its stores on this continent are experiencing double-digit comps. In 2004, after being off the fashion map for 10 years, three stores opened in New York City and another 13 were opened in the Northeast. Ten additional stores are in the works for the current fiscal year, along with 25 shop-in-shops.

The strategy, the company said, is to build a solid foundation and then slowly grow the brand. Griffith said the U.S. apparel market is plagued with sameness. Griffith conceded that Esprit faces the challenge of growing its business in a well-established market. But the company is optimistic that it can differentiate itself.

"Consumers can't buy more stuff, but we can offer them something they want: nicer clothes and accessories," Griffith said.

At the new flagship, located at 600 Fifth Avenue, Griffith gave a preopening tour of the store with Ralph Trumpfheller, global manager, architecture, for Esprit, and group chairman and chief executive officer Heinz Krogner.

The ceo praised the merchandising and layout of the men's wear line and edc by Esprit, the retailer's teen-targeted line. The presentation was spot-on, he said. But Krogner winced at the Collection line, which is the company's higher-end offering for women.

"This is no good, this does not work," Krogner said, adding that the runway-style layout needed to be reconfigured and jazzed up to "wow" the customer. Krogner said apparel "merchandise should be celebrated."

The Esprit store "should be a stage," he said, reiterating that, for Esprit to succeed in the U.S., the company has to present itself as a "youthful, international lifestyle company offering affordable luxury for a quality consumer with democratic pricing."The 14,412-square-foot Manhattan store, located between 48th and 49th streets at the southeast corner of Rockefeller Center, opened Wednesday.

"Rockefeller Center is a highly visible and accessible location, perfect for both New Yorkers and the crowds of international tourists that already know and love the Esprit brand," Griffith said in a statement. "Esprit's first three Manhattan stores have been so well received that it seemed natural to open our next store in this famous New York landmark location."

Esprit operates about 640 retail stores worldwide. It also has broad distribution with a wholesale business. The company's design team launches 12 collections annually, aimed at offering consumers "fresh looks."

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