By  on March 16, 2009

MOSCOW — H&M’s first Russian store opened here Friday with a scrum for discount coupons and lines of up to 30 people clogging changing rooms.

The Swedish fast-fashion giant is upbeat about its prospects in the country, despite Russia’s poor economic indicators and a chill on the retail scene that has seen some shops close.

“H&M has historically not been that affected by recessions,” said Kristina Stenvinkel, the firm’s head of communications. “We see this is as an opportunity when we can get good locations.”

The 32,000-square-foot store, located in a mall toward Moscow’s northern outskirts, is the first of three planned for the Russian capital this year, and will be complemented by one in St. Petersburg in 2010. H&M is planning 225 global openings this year, up from 196 last year, Stenvinkel said.

Moscow has seen an invasion by mass market brands: Gap and New Look have recently opened, while Topshop entered the market in late 2006.

Analysts say such firms, with their attractive price points, are better positioned to weather the economic crisis. That’s not to say they’re guaranteed success, however. All Diesel and Kookai stores are to close in Moscow after their management cited various difficulties, as are some luxury boutiques.

H&M had for years been battling in court for control over its brand name in Russia, which was registered by a Russian, Boris Kostyrin. The retailer won the case in 2007.

The Moscow unveiling was festive. After the ribbon cutting by H&M chief executive officer Rolf Eriksen at noon, waiting customers surged forward and overwhelmed an attendant offering 1,000-ruble ($29) discount coupons.

“It’s a great time to open,” said Masha Kapraru, a 20-year-old student. “Who doesn’t need cheap clothes right now?”

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