By  on February 6, 2007

MONTREAL — Tween Brands Inc. faces a challenge in its desire to expand into Canada.

"We thought we would open our first store last year, but it never happened because we haven't been able to find desirable locations," said Robert Atkinson, vice president of investor relations at Limited Too in New Albany, Ohio, which, along with sister chain Justice, is owned by Tween Brands. "We began to look at the Canadian market about nine months ago, but right now we have no leases signed."

The retailer wants to tap the Canadian market because it sees little competition in the seven- to 14- year-old age range apart from La Senza Girl, owned by lingerie retailer La Senza. Limited Brands, which sold Too Inc. and its Limited Too chain in 1999, agreed in November to acquire La Senza. Too Inc. was renamed Tween Brands.

Limited Too has 560 stores in the U.S., and the lower-price Justice has 160. Atkinson wants to open about 50 of each in Canada, although Limited Too is the priority. The stores would average 4,100 square feet, be corporately owned and carry the same merchandise as stores in the U.S., 85 percent sportswear, Atkinson said.

"We're looking primarily at suburban malls, and there are lots of malls we would love to be in, starting with Toronto's Eaton Center," he said. "But there's just no space available."

The stores would be located in the seven largest markets in Canada, some of them downtown because the urban core in Canada is "much more vibrant than in the U.S.," Atkinson said.

Limited Too would go over well in Canada because it has "a really cool retail concept," said analyst Kaileen Millard at The NPD Group in Toronto. "I notice a lot of tweens shopping in ladies' stores, so they could do very well here."

Apparel purchases by tweens in Canada have increased 8 percent since 2000, although that figure declined in all other age categories, Millard said.

The favorite place to shop for nine-year-olds is Children's Place, followed by La Senza and Old Navy, and for 13-year-olds, it's La Senza, Gap and Old Navy, she added.A 2005 tween report by YTV, the Canadian youth cable television channel, said 2.5 million youngsters in Canada between the ages of seven and 14 account for $2.9 billion in retail purchases; 41 percent is spent on clothing by girls and 14 percent by boys.

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