By  on August 1, 2007

SINGAPORE — If you build it, they will come and, Gap Inc. hopes, they will shop.

Customers were waiting when the retailer unveiled its first Banana Republic store here on July 14, the region's third new boutique in as many months. The Singapore store joins a Banana Republic unit in Jakarta, Indonesia, that launched in May, and one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which opened in June, all operated as franchises of local retailer and distributor FJ Benjamin Holdings Ltd., which brought the Gap to the region last year.

The openings come amid a major international expansion for Banana Republic, which debuted franchise stores in the Middle East this year in addition to its existing company-owned units in the U.S., Canada and Japan. This month, parent Gap Inc. will open its first franchise shops in South Korea for both Banana Republic and the Gap. The company is also set to expand into Turkey and Saudi Arabia before the end of the year, and launch Banana Republic in the U.K. next February.

The new two-floor Singapore store occupies prime space in one of the city's highest-end luxury malls, The Paragon, where neighbors include retailers such as Versace, Miu Miu and Longchamp. The location is intended to augment the brand's accessible luxury image and offers a slightly higher positioning than in the U.S.

"For any American brand — not just Gap and Banana Republic — when you take it [to a new market], it's more aspirational and elevated," said Vincent Montemarano, vice president of franchise sales, planning and marketing for Gap Inc. Prices for Banana Republic, as for the Gap, are about 8 to 10 percent higher than in the U.S.

"It is [an elevated look and positioning] here,'' said Rosemary Kovacsofsky, marketing manager for Banana Republic. "From a store design perspective, we've taken the best of our stores in North America and the best of Japan, and we've melded this brand new package that we feel is the most sophisticated [store concept] to date. We've really tried to push the envelope a bit with our franchise stores. Since we have a fewer amount of stores, we can focus more on the details."After the promotional splash for the Gap launch in Singapore last fall, the Banana Republic debut embraced a more subdued, sophisticated tone. Rather than billboards, flyers and advertising on buses and taxis — as had been done for the Gap — Banana Republic had limited advertising and invited guests for a cocktail party and fashion show outside the store.

"It's a much more elevated approach because that represents the brand," Kovacsofsky said.

The merchandise encompassed a range from the brand's pre-fall collection. Montemarano said the idea was to launch the store with a large variety of products and see how customers responded in order to shape future buying strategies, a similar tactic used with the Gap store.

"We've adjusted our [Gap] buying strategy since the beginning, because we didn't know what was really going to sell in the Asian market," Montemarano said. "We approached with more of a breadth of assortment, but now we can really watch what's selling and buy deeper into those styles."

At Gap stores in Southeast Asia, which include four units in Singapore as well as the ones in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, the top-selling items include logo apparel, dresses and denim.

Kovacsofsky said Banana Republic's team has no plans to start designing specifically for the new markets, but that may be considered in the future.

"We're still so new in many of these markets that it's really not appropriate for us to make assumptions about what will work and what won't work," Kovacsofsky said. "We want to get in these markets, live with it a little bit, get feedback from customers and then start making changes. The design team is very curious about our new markets — they want to come over here and spend time in these cities. There has been some discussion about creating capsule collections [for the new markets] but there's no point in jumping the gun on something like that."

Franchise partner FJ Benjamin's chief executive officer, Nash Benjamin, said the response to the Gap stores has been strong and the company will look to build on momentum by introducing initiatives such as Gap's (Product) Red line, which will arrive in the region in late October."So far, we have been very happy with the response," Benjamin said. "Now, we are looking forward to growing it."

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