By  on December 20, 2005

MILAN — Italy may finally get its own high-end, international department store and La Rinascente may eventually be true to its meaning in Italian — to be born again.

Vittorio Radice, La Rinascente's new chief executive officer, who transformed the once-staid Selfridges into a hot retail property, has a seven-year plan to turn around Italy's main department store chain and revive its dusty image.

"We want to radically change La Rinascente, which has not managed in the past 20 years to keep up with the times," said Radice, who arrived at the chain in May.

Radice's plans until 2012 are:

  • To more than double sales in the next seven years, with the goal of reaching revenues of 605 million euros, or $719.9 million, in 2012, up from 292 million euros, or $347.5 million, in 2004. Dollar figures were converted from the euro at current exchange rates.

  • Expand La Rinascente's product offerings, with an increased presence of accessories from high-end designer brands and new categories such as electronics and media, including books and CDs.

  • Grow the retailer's workforce to 2,200 from 1,700, with the introduction of new key figures such as merchandisers and allocators. Radice envisions a return to full-service and the end of self-service at the stores. "We were known for the quality of our service in the Sixties and Seventies. Superior or exceptional service is remembered long after the purchase," he said. Employees will dedicate one hour each day to in-house training.

  • Invest 110 million euros, or $119.9 million, in the remodeling of its existing 15 stores. Radice plans to close two non-strategic stores and open five new ones in important cities such as Bologna and Venice. In reference to the retail structure of the chain, Radice said he is aiming at a stable of two flagships and 20 "core" stores, which will replace the variety of different formats that now exist. "Core" stores would cover about 54,000 square feet and be in independent, central and historical buildings.
"The store in Piazza Duomo [the flagship] is the best expression of La Rinascente and we want to replicate it in Rome," said Radice, adding he is already in talks to secure such a space in the capital. The Milan Duomo store covers 756,000 square feet over seven floors. Remodeling work there will begin in January and extend into 2012, but the store will remain open for the duration of the work.La Rinascente, which dates from 1865, was acquired last spring by Tamerice Srl, a consortium led by the Borletti family, who owned it before the Agnellis, for 888 million euros, or $1.15 billion. Maurizio Borletti, chairman, said at the time that he wanted to "restore [La Rinascente] once again as a leading department store in the world ... to present a unique and different shopping experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the world," raising it from a midtier to a high-end range.

Radice said he will model the new La Rinascente on other successful department stores, such as Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. When questioned about his timing and the similarities with other department stores, he said: "Our mix is very different from what one may find in Paris or London, it is the recipe that is our own and makes the difference."

The executive said he was fine-tuning agreements with Italian and foreign fashion houses, but said it was too early to provide specific brands — although he did mention labels Max Mara, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Prada. "It's fantastic that so many want to participate. We want to be the expression of the 'Made in Italy' lifestyle, and, as such, these fashion brands should be available at our stores."

Radice added he is looking for "pieces, rather than collections," which will spur impulse buying. Accordingly, prices will not be at the top end of the scale, although Radice said he wants to push for top accessories brands. "By May, we will have a shoe selection that I hope Bon Marché will envy us," he quipped.

Ready-to-wear will be displayed by brand and no longer by category, and there will be more easily identifiable corners rather than generic displays.

Radice said that by 2012, fashion brands would account for 60 percent of sales, La Rinascente–owned brands for 10 percent of sales and outside concessions, a new category, for 30 percent. Private label now accounts for 40 percent of sales.

Radice also insisted on customer loyalty. "Only 28 percent of visitors become our customers today — we want to change that," he said. "That doesn't necessarily mean they have to be spending money, we are happy if they spend time here," he said.For this reason, in addition to restaurants and cafes, the executive plans to offer a food market at the two flagships.

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