Byline: Lucie Muir

MILAN--As the era of mom-and-pop shops comes to an end, the door is open for players with new ideas in Italy's fast-changing retail industry.
And leading the way in this rough-and-tumble sector is Gruppo Coin, a family-owned retailing group that controls the Coin mid- to high-end department stores, the discount department store chain Oviesse and the Bimbus children's wear chain.
Coin's little empire--95 company-owned department stores and 55 franchises throughout Italy--is starting to give Rinascente, Italy's largest retailing group, a run for its money.
The store offers a wide range of men's, women's and children's wear, home furnishings and tableware, and is expanding through a strategy of renovating choice sites in Italy's historic city centers to create smaller, almost boutique-like department stores.
Annual sales totaled $406 million (670 billion lire) in fiscal 1993, up 4.6 percent from the year before. The company expects its 1994 sales to reach $436 million (720 billion lire). But the road hasn't been easy; last year, clothing consumption in Italy declined for the first time since World War II.
One of Coin's strategies is to invest substantial time and money in market research. During 1993, the firm put $29 million (48.6 billion lire) into research, mostly to analyze customer profiles. The results showed the typical Coin customer to be female, age 20 to 40, well educated and from an upper-middle-income bracket.
According to a Coin spokesman, Coin's customers are "much more selective then ever before. Quality and style are more and more important. They are well-informed and know what they want."
After learning how to "think customer," Coin is emphasizing "speaking to the customer" in the right way, from the goods on the shop floor to the image in the media; a $10 million (16.1 billion lire) advertising campaign is currently running in leading newspapers and magazines, and on television.
Coin is also talking to its customers through an in-store lifestyle magazine called Stars and Stores, launched in February 1993. Clothing is the biggest component of Coin's business, accounting for 75 percent of its products. The rest is housewares and table-top accessories (which Coin has expanded and brought up-market over the last two years), furniture, fabrics and toiletries. Coin has made significant investments in its own apparel manufacturing operations. Much of the clothing Coin sells is produced by Sirema, a group subsidiary based in the Veneto region near Coin headquarters. The remainder comes from suppliers in Italy and Eastern Europe, the spokesman explained.
The women's wear department includes Coin's Foxton label, which is aimed at women who want new trends without compromising on elegance. Coexis is for classic tastes and formal occasions, while Miss Twidd offers a blend of refined English style and Italian tailoring. The Stilo Noir, River Cafe and Lei Luna collections are targeted to the younger woman, and all the collections are designed to woo the woman who might otherwise shop at Max Mara, which Coin considers a major rival.
There are six private labels in the men's wear department and five in the children's department.
All collections are presented in individual corners to distinguish each line, a shop-in-shop strategy that Coin has adopted in most of its stores since the 1980s.
Coin has focused its strategic growth on three main areas: multistores, developments and shopping centers.
The multistore concept is based on Coin's shop-in-shop formula, which it is updating with a renovation plan for existing stores. Last year Coin outlets in Treviso, Vicenza and Verona were modernized; refurbishments in Milan, Naples and Venice are set for 1995.
The development strategy is already well under way and consists of acquiring and renovating historic buildings in city centers. In Rome, a new Coin store is housed in an old Peroni brewery. In Bologna, the shell of an ancient Roman theater was enclosed within the shop walls, creating a bizarre, Colosseum-meets-J.C. Penney effect.
The shopping center or hypermarket plan aims at a new sector of the Italian market, where shopping patterns are changing rapidly. Coin's most ambitious plan to date will be completed later this year, when the company opens a nine-story shopping center in Venice-Mestre, called Le Barche.
Le Barche will include a branch of all the Coin stores--Coin, Oviesse and Bimbus--as well as 30 independent retail shops from the Venice area.

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