By  on May 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- Speedo specialty shops are swimming in the fast lane.

The first one opened in Los Angeles in November 1992, and the growing network of activewear stores is projecting sales of between $80 million and $100 million in 1995, according to Linda J. Wachner, chairman and chief executive officer of Authentic Fitness Corp., which owns the Speedo stores.

"We are very serious about Speedo shops, and we have very aggressive plans," said Wachner.

So far, there are 15 Speedo shops in the U.S., and 10 more are scheduled to open by Labor Day. By year's end, Wachner plans to have a total of 50, and she said she expects to open 50 more in 1995, totaling 100 shops.

The first Speedo unit in Chicago was opened last week, and another opened last Wednesday in Bridgehampton Commons, N.Y., with a grand opening planned for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

A lease has just been signed for a second New York unit to be opened in August at the northeast corner of 58th Street and Lexington Avenue. Other locations targeted for summer openings are Baltimore; Los Angeles; Pasadena, Calif.; San Francisco; Oak Brook, Ill.; Miami; Seattle; Philadelphia, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

A unit in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands is due to open at the end of October.

Wachner noted that a key part of Speedo's retail strategy is full-price selling.

"People don't need to buy on sale," said Wachner. "If a woman can get merchandise in her size, and get in and out of a store quickly, that's what I call a bargain."

Beth Ravit, who has been president of the Authentic Fitness retail division since 1992, noted, "We don't run constant sales, just semiannual sales in July and February. " It's old-time retailing. "We've also tried to make the shopping experience user-friendly for Speedo customers," said Ravit, noting that anti-shoplifting tags on merchandise are small, not bulky. She added that fitting rooms feature two mirrors, have lots of light and a gym bench.

Sales per square foot range from $400 at Speedo shops in malls to $1,000 at the 1,050-square-foot-flagship here at 90 Park Ave., she said. Mall units are typically larger and range in size between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet.The average cost of creating a Speedo shop and its trademark decor -- a ceiling that's done in real swimming pool tile with mannequins in swimming mode -- is around $200,000 per unit, said Ravit.

Regarding merchandising, Ravit commented, "When we first designed the women's line in 1991, we didn't want to get into the commodity business. We took a look at how everybody else was pricing basic garments, and we targeted the same prices of department store aerobicwear. As we set up stores, we set up our core basic program at opening prices."

Retail prices at Speedo shops for women's solid stretch apparel start at $18 for bra tops and go to $50 for catsuits. Fashion looks retail from $24 for a printed bra top to $46 for a printed unitard. Women's sports jackets are $48 to $80. Swimwear sells from $45 for a basic tank suit of Antron nylon and Lycra, to $79 for a high-neck maillot of metallic polyester and polyurethane. That style is called S2000 and was introduced during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Ravit further noted that stretch apparel for boys and girls is a fast-growing segment of Speedo's retail business. She said items such as bike shorts and T-shirts for children were successfully tested at the largest unit -- a 2,200-square-foot unit in Costa Mesa, Calif. The children's program has now been expanded to other units.

Children's sizes are 4 to 6X for girls, and 4 to 7 for boys. Retail prices start at $12 for T-shirts and go to $15 for bike shorts.

Wachner noted that the ad budget will grow with the pace of business at Authentic Fitness, which holds the license for the Speedo name in North America. The annual corporate ad budget currently is between $10 million and $15 million, she said.

Authentic Fitness also markets and manufactures White Stag activewear and swimwear under the Catalina, Cole of California, Anne Cole and the licensed Oscar de la Renta labels. Its sales in 1993 reached $132.9 million, with the Speedo business accounting for $103.3 million.

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