By  on August 6, 2007

NEW YORK — Since joining Louis Vuitton as North American president and chief executive officer last December, Daniel Lalonde has become quite the LV aficionado.

On a recent Friday morning, he was sporting a tailored gray suit, a white shirt, a navy tie, a watch and shoes — all from the luxury goods house, with some of the items prominently featuring the stylized floral motif that is one of Vuitton's signature icons. He was a walking, talking manifestation of the brand.

He has to be, for Lalonde thinks there is huge growth potential for Vuitton in the States. He spent his first few months on the job visiting most of the 116 U.S. Vuitton stores. After having studied the business coast to coast, the former president and ceo of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Watch & Jewelry North America formed a multifaceted strategy for Vuitton, which includes:

- Rolling out freestanding stores in areas where the brand currently has no presence.

- Identifying new lifestyle centers being built as particular expansion opportunities.

- Launching an e-commerce Web site in the U.S.

- Increasing Vuitton's commitment to the arts and to charity.

- Continuously highlighting the expansive history of the luxury leather goods house to customers.

"The brand has had an incredible amount of success in North America in the last five years," said Lalonde, citing consistently strong double-digit gains across the Vuitton product gamut. "The brand awareness has been developed very well. One of the things I'd like to begin to work on is telling the whole story of the Louis Vuitton brand and what the brand means, from the rich heritage going back to 1854 and our roots being in travel. This is what makes Louis Vuitton different from all luxury brands."

Lalonde said in-store events help bring across that history. Case in point: Vuitton made this its year of travel worldwide, so the company has been holding travel-themed events in key stores that are celebrating their 25th anniversary. For instance, it recently held a party at its Toronto flagship for its key customers and VIPs, giving the space a classic hotel feel.

Under Lalonde, Vuitton also will continue expanding its retail network. The executive plans to bring the number of U.S. stores to 121 before the end of the year, with openings planned for St. Thomas; Natick, Mass.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Bloomingdale's in Aventura, Fla., and Saks Fifth Avenue in Phoenix. Unlike many other luxury brands, Vuitton controls 100 percent of its distribution, and in-store environments in larger department stores are always leased and operated by the company.

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