Brands Tout Growth at ICR Conference

Fashion’s strongest brands are charging ahead or at least laying groundwork for expansion in the U.S., abroad and online.

The holiday season might have been blah and the global economy is still on shaky ground, but the message from many fashion executives was one of growth as the 15th annual ICR XChange investor conference drew to a close in Miami Thursday.

This story first appeared in the January 18, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Fashion’s strongest brands are charging ahead or at least laying groundwork for expansion in the U.S., abroad and online.

“[We have] the opportunity to expand square footage in the United States for Victoria’s Secret by 25 percent,” said Stuart Burgdoerfer, executive vice president and chief financial officer, Limited Brands Inc.

And the image of Limited as a predominantly U.S. company might become antiquated. “Our sales outside the United States over time will be greater than our sales inside the United States,” Burgdoerfer said.

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While the updates from the investor conference were by no means universally positive, other executives are thinking along the same lines. Urban Outfitters is fine-tuning its international approach; Kate Spade is growing all over; PVH Corp. is looking to boost Calvin Klein once it is under one roof after the Warnaco acquisition, and G-III Apparel Group Ltd. is on the hunt for deals.

Here’s what executives had to say at ICR on Thursday and late Wednesday.

Stuart Burgdoerfer, Limited Brands Inc.

• “We are trying to be the best in the world at what we do, and when we think about that we do look at some other well-known global retail brands. So Inditex…H&M…Uniqlo…these are all businesses that are larger than we are.”

• “Ninety-nine percent of our stores are cash flow positive.…It’s a very important health indicator of our business.”

• “From 2008 to 2013, we will have added sales to the tune of $2.4 billion, and we will have done so with $132 million less inventory.”

Emanuel Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer, PVH Corp.

• “We can bring significant benefits to the jeans side of the [Calvin Klein] business, particularly in Europe and North America, where I think Warnaco has been very up front about where there have been struggles around the brand.”

• “We operate [our heritage] businesses really from a cash point of view, [with] growth prospects in the 1 percent to 3 percent range.…[It] plays a strong role, allows us to invest the profits of this business back into the two growth brands [Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein] as we go forward.”

William L. McComb, ceo, Fifth & Pacific Cos. Inc.

• “We completed the acquisition of our [Kate Spade] joint venture partnership in Japan. This is a 20-year-old business and I know you’ve heard from Michael Kors the importance of the Japanese market.”

• “The [Kate Spade consumer] database is the key to unlocking growth and driving up productivity, even in our retail stores. In 2012, we were able to grow our customer database by more than 50 percent.”

• “Juicy [Couture] had gone from three years of being very safe with its product line…to a different guardrail of taking what should have been the top 15 to 20 percent of the merchandising architecture and making it the whole architecture.”

Richard Hayne, chairman, president and ceo, Urban Outfitters Inc.

• “The key to [managing international operations] is to have native eyes looking at the market and making the choices. There is really no way, in my estimation, you can sit in Philadelphia and try to understand what a women in London is going to want to wear six months hence…and then if you go to Tokyo it’s even more mysterious.”

• “I think we have a few headwinds that we’re trying to navigate around in this country and those are taxes and government regulation.…There are less headwinds here than there are in Europe.”

• “I have always likened the product part of our business to hitting a target, and I have always maintained that even the best merchants can never be in the bull’s-eye consistently. We have built our model to be several rungs out of the bull’s-eye and still make a very substantial return.”

Wayne S. Miller, chief operating officer, G-III Apparel Group

• “Acquisitions have been an important part of the company’s growth over the past eight years. We continue to look. I would say that first and foremost we’re looking for a brand to two brands. We are told that on G-III’s balance sheet we could probably afford up to $500 million of debt. We are debt-averse, but if the right opportunity comes along, we know that we could move quickly on that. Size of business, $50 million to $500 million, but we can be patient. We feel pretty good that we have enough organic growth over the next several years. Then again, if the right opportunity comes along, we think we can move pretty quick on it.”

Michael A. Weiss, chairman and ceo, Express Inc.

• “We had been going out of the basic business for several years.…And it was a rough decision, but we felt that we had no choice. We strategically planned that department down, believing that we could make it up elsewhere. That was a mistake.”

• “Measuring adoption rates is really handcuffs on flowers, if you will. They — creative people, if they’re forced to sell three out of five things that they design — invariably will design things off what was good in the past, never ever thinking about going forward, because they’re afraid the buyer won’t buy it and then they will have a lousy adoption rate.”

Thomas Chubb 3rd, president and ceo, Oxford Industries Inc.

• “While I don’t know that I can stand here today and say that Ben Sherman’s going to be a very healthy business a year from now, I do absolutely believe that we can improve it substantially and therefore improve the performance of the overall corporation.”

• “Tommy Bahama has been historically underpenetrated [in women’s wear]. Women’s business in Tommy is actually growing faster than men’s right now. Both are growing, but women’s is growing faster and that creates a lot of opportunity.”

• “E-commerce is now tracking to be a little over 10 percent of our [Tommy Bahama] business for the year, which is fantastic. Direct-to-consumer — brick and mortar and e-commerce combined — are now about 70 percent of the business.”

Marc Miller, cfo, Aéropostale Inc.

• “[E-commerce] cracked $200 million in sales for the first time.…It’s been supplemented by [the November acquisition of online retailer] GoJane….They had over 40 percent growth over holiday.…E-commerce in total is just about 9 percent of sales right now and we see the opportunity in the near term to grow that to 15 percent of sales.”

• “We’re now achieving sales-per-square-foot productivity [in the P.S. by Aéropostale business] that’s exceeding many of our competitors in the tween space. This is the year, in 2013, when we will break even for the first time as a division, and at 100 stores now with what we called a 500-store opportunity, this is an opportunity for significant square-footage growth for us.”