By  on June 22, 2005

LOS ANGELES — The owners of Santa Monica-based Hard Tail have sprouted retail roots.

Like other contemporary lines seeking more exposure for their merchandise, husband-and-wife team Dick and Patty Cantrell in June opened their first Hard Tail store. They chose a 6,400-square-foot location on the popular Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, joining neighbors such as Vancouver-based Kenzie, which opened a 3,700-square-foot store in May.

"It doesn't bother me," said Fred Levine, co-owner of M. Fredric, a chain of 19 contemporary stores in the Los Angeles region that carries Hard Tail. "All it does is create a bigger place for Hard Tail to shine and creates more public awareness of the product, which helps me."

For Dick Cantrell, the retail transition isn't a leap. He started in 1970 with four jeans stores in San Francisco called London Britches. Later, he operated six sportswear stores in Hawaii and hired the woman he married as a buyer. He sold the business in 1986 and six years later opened Hard Tail, a term coined by an Air Force buddy as a synonym for a pleasing posterior.

The sportswear line features roll-over pants and skirts, hoodies, ultrasheer T-shirts in fashion silhouettes such as drop necklines, tie-wrap tops and Bermudas in about 60 fabrics like French terry, cotton supima, fleece, velour and voile as well as denim jeans. It sells at more than 1,000 stores, including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's.

Hard Tail's outpost was formerly Wilson's Leather and is near Zara and the Armani Exchange.

"The rents are through the roof here, but the exposure is tremendous," said Cantrell, referring to rents of $7 to $11.50 per square foot.

The store's design theme embraces its beachside setting with floating glass panels framing the front glass entrance and white walls and stainless steel fixtures serving as a canvas for the colorful garment-dyed and tie-dyed merchandise. Bamboo floors alternate with textured floors. Two cushioned seating areas encircling a column break up the space, which devotes most of the front to women's clothing and men's in the back.

Product is set up by color, such as the plum and light blue corner with crew caps, scarves, tanks, shirts and jackets geared for layering to sunny brights such as yellows and greens and peaches in gaucho-styled pants and gypsy skirts. Retail prices are about $30 for ribbed tanks, $80 for bottoms and as much as $180 for denim jeans.Cantrell put up an 8-foot-by-8-foot white wall covered in a collage of images at the entrance, forcing shoppers to turn right or left to get into the space.

He has a first-year sales target of $6.4 million for the store, which he said will also serve to test merchandise.

"We can also help our retailers here by getting quick reads on top sellers and what's not selling," he said.

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