Liz Claiborne Loss Widens, Plots Growth Path

William McComb sees $4.5 billion retail potential for Kate, Juicy and Lucky.

Now that the soon-to-be renamed Liz Claiborne Inc. has trimmed down and raised money to retire debt, it is focusing on Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand and Kate Spade — which chief executive officer William L. McComb said together could grow into a better than $4.5 billion retail business globally.

This story first appeared in the November 10, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But at least for the third quarter, Claiborne was still working off the vestiges of its former structure. Since August, Claiborne has raised $471 million selling the Liz Claiborne brand to J.C. Penney Co. Inc., fragrance trademarks, a majority stake in the Mexx division, Dana Buchman, Kensie and Mac & Jac. Its debt load, which totaled $747 million at the end of the third quarter, should weigh in at $270 million to $290 million by year’s end.

Third-quarter losses widened to $214.6 million, or $2.27 a share, from $62.7 million, or 67 cents, a year earlier. But adjusted earnings per share from continuing operations tallied 5 cents a share — ahead of the 4 cent loss analysts projected. Investors pushed the stock up 9.7 percent to a new 52-week high of $9.18, but the issue was down 1.9 percent to $8.21 in midafternoon trading.

Total sales for the three months ended Oct. 1 fell 9.1 percent to $397.8 million from $437.5 million. Juicy Couture’s sales fell 7.2 percent to $137 million, as Lucky Brand’s sales rose 3 percent to $101 million and Kate Spade’s shot up 69 percent to $75 million. The company also has a wholesale jewelry division.

“We are anchored by three high-growth retail based brands with significant expansion potential in global markets spanning multiple product categories,” McComb told analysts on a conference call.

Kate Spade is the company’s smallest brand, but the one seen as having the biggest potential. “We see this as a brand that can go far, with a global retail sales target of $2 billion or greater,” McComb said. “We already have an e-commerce business that does over $60 million in annual sales. We see that revenue base growing very fast over the next two years.” The brand — rooted in accessories — has 49 stores, but the company sees the potential for up to 225 U.S. stores and 400 international locations.

Lucky Brand, which has 179 stores, could expand that to 250 full price U.S. stores plus 100 outlets and draw more than $1 billion in retail sales.

And McComb said Juicy Couture, which has been trying to find its feet and will introduce new merchandise in January, has a global retail sales potential of more than $1.5 billion.

The ceo is looking to grow the group’s brands in most overseas markets through partnerships that can later be brought in house, a strategy implemented successfully by Ralph Lauren Corp. and others.

Claiborne will also continue to adjust its corporate infrastructure to better accommodate its tighter brand portfolio.