By and  on April 30, 2008

NEW YORK — Lord & Taylor is joining the growing ranks of U.S. retailers looking to international expansion even as it seeks to beef up existing stores with better merchandising and renovations.

As part of the latter strategy, the chain plans to convert 100,000 or more square feet in its Fifth Avenue flagship into a home furnishings department.

"We basically are very committed to growth within the existing stores we have, but there is an opportunity in Asia and other markets in North America for Lord & Taylor to have stores" that would concentrate the merchandising on American designers, Richard Baker, chairman of Lord & Taylor, said Tuesday. He spoke at the "Keeping/Gaining Market Share in Difficult Times" seminar at the Princeton Club, organized by Emanuel Weintraub Associates Inc., the New Jersey-based management consultants.

Baker, also president and chief executive of NRDC Equity Partners, which owns Lord & Taylor and Fortunoff, said he recently returned from trips to Canada and Mexico. There are "several groups" interested in bringing Lord & Taylor to locations outside the U.S., he said, but he declined to specify which groups or any timetable.

Baker said his company is considering different business models for international expansion, such as licensing. However, "The primary growth story is within existing stores."

Other American retailers either undertaking or contemplating overseas expansion include Saks Fifth Avenue, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Bloomingdale's.

Aside from eyeing store openings abroad, Lord & Taylor has a full agenda involving the ongoing remerchandising over the last five years, drawing better vendors such as Stuart Weitzman, Cole Haan and Juicy Couture.

NRDC also is pouring capital into renovating and reconfiguring L&T's Fifth Avenue flagship, between 38th and 39th Streets. The plans are awaiting approvals from the city. A major part of the vision is to bring Fortunoff jewelry and home shops into the flagship, as well as to L&T branch locations. At the flagship, Baker said he would create a 100,000-square-foot home department, encompassing two floors. That would in effect convert L&T into a full-fledged department store, and inevitably draw comparisons to the former B. Altman store that was nearby at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. Altman's operated a successful home furnishings business and sold apparel.

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