By  on September 17, 2007

NEW YORK — Chuck Hellman has returned to the Robert Stock fold.

Last week, premium sportswear company Robert Graham appointed Hellman as its first CEO. He had worked previously at designer Robert Stock’s eponymous company, where he served as president from 1996 to 2000. The newly created position at Robert Graham, which was created by Stock nearly six years ago, follows a dramatic period of growth—nearly 80 percent—over the last two years.

“Because of the exceptional growth the last few years, we felt it was really important to bring a CEO to the company to put together a long-term business plan,” said Stock. “Chuck is a very strong administrator with a clear vision to take the company forward.”

Initiatives include continued expansion in the men’s and women’s categories, a focus on international distribution in the U.K., Asia and South America, and the creation of new categories through licensing deals. A plan for a flagship Robert Graham store in downtown Manhattan is also scheduled to open no later than fall 2009, with a retail location in Los Angeles expected to follow soon after.

Although the private company refused to disclose figures, industry sources estimate Robert Graham’s volume at roughly $20 million to $25 million—a number that could easily quadruple in the next year or two if business goals are met.

One opportunity where Hellman said he sees tremendous opportunity for growth is the women’s category, where Robert Graham’s blouses, novelty jackets, tunics and shirt dresses have experienced double-digit increases at retailers such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, and specialty stores like Mark Shale. “Our women’s distribution has grown dramatically to the point where it is now in more than 100 specialty stores,” said Hellman.

Robert Graham is currently carried in more than 550 doors in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Although women’s currently only accounts for 20 percent of Robert Graham’s total business, Stock said that “in three to five years the women’s business could really exceed the men’s business by quite a lot.” Stock also added that jackets and bottoms would become an increasingly important category for both the men’s and women’s business in the year ahead.

Robert Graham incorporated dress shirts and neckwear into its repertoire in the last year and, according to Hellman, has experienced strong results with both. As a result, the New York–based company’s umbrella will expand to include braces, bags and cufflinks for men if it can secure the right license. “The licensing arena is a very sacred one to me, and whoever we would decide to make a partner in a licensing deal would have to have the same design and distribution philosophy,” said Stock, who noted that the launch of women’s accessories would likely follow men’s.

Robert Graham retail price points are $168 to $248 for men’s furnishings, $498 to $758 for men’s jackets, while retail prices for women’s categories range from $148 to $398.

Despite bold initiatives for growth, both Hellman and Stock said the key for Robert Graham’s continued success will be conservative expansion. “We are aiming to become a complete international lifestyle collection and we are building the components of that right now,” said the newly appointed Hellman. “But we have to grow smartly and focus on not only volume but also profits.”

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