By  on December 23, 2004

NEW YORK — Barneys New York chief executive officer Howard Socol is on the road again and this time it’s to find real estate, not investors, as part of an intensifying drive to create a billion-dollar national luxury chain.

With Jones Apparel Group’s acquisition of the luxury retailer complete, Socol is pursuing the roll out strategy. He was in San Francisco this month, exploring real estate options in and around Union Square, according to people familiar with the situation.

And Barneys is said to be close to securing a site in Boston, most likely Copley Place, where Neiman Marcus has a store. Miami, Washington and Las Vegas, among other cities, are high on the radar screen, as well.

“There are some very attractive sites throughout the country that we are exploring right now,” Socol said in an interview Wednesday. “Obviously, San Francisco makes sense, as does Florida, Boston and Washington. Vegas is a definite possibility. Most definitely, we will be rolling out Co-op stores [Barney’s contemporary sportswear and premium denim concept] and more flagship stores over the next four or five years.”

In San Francisco, “We think we can [house] both a full-line and a Co-op,” he said. Boston may also support more than one Barneys format.

Socol said the company is set to open three Co-ops next spring — Chicago, Atlanta and Costa Mesa, Calif. — and will announce more in the fall.

Although the competition to buy Barneys didn’t generate a groundswell, Jones competed with rivals such as designer Elie Tahari, financier Nelson Peltz of Triarc Co. and the Bear Stearns Merchant Banking Group. The acquisition was considered a stretch for Jones, which is primarily known as a leading moderate and better apparel manufacturer, though it operates about 900 stores.

“As [Jones Apparel Group ceo] Peter Boneparth has said, there’s a big opportunity for top-line growth,” via new stores and same-store-sales growth, Socol said. Boneparth has said he believes Barneys can be a billion-dollar business, though there is a long climb. Last year, the chain reported $444.2 million in volume. There are six full-line stores. They are on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and in Beverly Hills; Manhasset, N.Y.; Chicago; Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Seattle. There are also 11 outlets and four Co-op units. The Jones-Barney deal, completed on Monday, was valued at $397.3 million.

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