NEW YORK — With 11 months left on their contract, Chico’s founders Marvin and Helene Gralnick are devoting their time to developing the new Chico’s offshoot, called Pazo, according to Scott Edmonds, president of Chico’s.

In an overview of the company Wednesday at the Bear Stearns Retail, Restaurant and Apparel Conference here, Edmonds said Pazo will bow in March, with 10 openings in warmer climates, including Scottsdale, Memphis, Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Boca Raton, Fla., and has formed product and field teams, separate from Chico’s. He described the Pazo merchandise as European-influenced casual, active, career and intimate apparel styles, with an average item price point of $40, though the range is from $14 to $118. The merchandise is geared for 25- to 35-year olds, whereas Chico’s targets Baby Boomers, has a median customer age of 53 and an average ticket price of $50. Pazo will be competing head-to-head with Express.

Although the company is expanding its reach via Pazo, Edmonds said the $531 million Chico’s chain still has legs. "We don’t feel we are running out of room for Chico’s. This is a monstrous niche that’s not being paid attention to, other than by department stores."

The Florida-based firm plans a net of 70 to 75 Chico openings this year, and opened 67 stores last year.

With the Gralnicks departing in about a year, Edmonds suggested there’s a smooth transition at the company. He noted that Pat Murphy, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer, has become "the product person" as the Gralnicks wind down their involvement with the Chico’s chain. But he also said that the Gralnicks aren’t about to disappear completely. "I don’t foresee any time when they won’t have an influence," he said.

Later, sources at the conference said Edmonds is the unsung hero at the chain, responsible for successfully managing Chico’s phenomenal growth for some time now. Pazo has potential too, but it will be a couple of seasons before it gets past the test phase.

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