By  on June 23, 1994

LONDON -- Talbots is gearing up for an ambitious expansion program throughout Europe with the eventual aim of having 150 to 200 stores.

As reported, Talbots will open its first European store in early September in Kingston-upon-Thames, a London suburb. The 3,575-square-foot store will be next to the Bentall Centre, a shopping mall.

Arnold B. Zetcher, president and chief executive officer of Talbots, said in an interview here that the group expects to open three more stores in the U.K. next year, one in London and two in locations he did not identify.

"We plan to open five to seven stores a year in the U.K., eventually getting up to 30," Zetcher said.

Zetcher said the performance of the first London store is expected to mirror that of the group's U.S. stores, which tend to break even on an operating basis within the inaugural year.

First-year sales of the London store are forecast at about $2.2 million, similar to that achieved in the U.S. stores, he said. In 1996, Talbots will move into Continental Europe, either in France or Spain.

"Each year thereafter we then would add another European country," Zetcher said, noting that Talbots' goal is to build its international operations to about 13 percent of total sales.

In addition to those in the U.K., Talbots has 11 stores in Canada and 10 in Japan in a venture with Jusco, which owns 63.4 percent of Talbots. The group's sales should be more than $800 million this year, Zetcher said, and are expected to top $1 billion within the next several years.

Talbots, based in Hingham, Mass., had net profits of $35.15 million on sales of $736.74 million in the year ended Jan. 29.

The expansion into Europe follows two years of study, including focus groups and demographic profiles. Zetcher said Talbots believes its customers in Europe will be similar to those it has in the U.S., who generally are working women in their 30s.

Mary Thigpen, the company's U.K. general manager, said its competition in Britain will come from such chains as Alexon, Jaeger and Country Casuals. There are no initial plans to introduce the company's mail-order catalog in Europe, although about 4,000 women in the U.K. already order from the American Talbots catalog, Zetcher said.Nor are there plans at this stage to launch any of the group's other formats in Europe, although Zetcher said that could change. In addition to Talbots stores in the U.S., the group operates units selling petites, children's wear and intimate apparel.

The European expansion does not mean Talbots is slowing its growth in the U.S., Zetcher emphasized. Talbots, which has about 400 stores in the U.S. in all its formats, sees the potential for 800. It will open 54 stores in the U.S. this year and 60 next year, Zetcher said.

It also is experimenting with new lines. It introduced a footwear and accessories catalog in the U.S. this spring and will do a second one in the fall. If that is successful, it will try a freestanding footwear and accessories stores in 1995, Zetcher said.

In addition, Talbots will launch an infants' and toddlers' line this fall to complement its children's wear collection. The line will be in its children's wear stores and its mail-order catalog.

"The one thing we won't do for now is men's wear or home furnishings, although I think there is potential for the Talbots classic look in men's wear," Zetcher said. "But we have enough on our plate for the next three to five years without doing a men's collection."

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