Sixty Group, the Italian fashion company behind the Miss Sixty, Energie and Killah brands, is hitting the Las Vegas Strip next week to launch a store with a fresh retail concept.
The company's U.S. arm, Sixty USA, is to open a 2,585-square-foot unit in The Forum Shops at Caesars. The opening will also mark the introduction of a retail concept that puts both the women's Miss Sixty brand and men's Energie brand under the same roof. The space has been codesigned by Studio 63 and Kenneth Park Architects, as well as the Sixty Group Interior Design team.
Don Witkowski, chief executive officer of Sixty USA, said that while the company has combined brands at retail before, the store represents the new direction for its retail strategy on an international level.
"We really like the way this came out and we feel the customer is going to like it,'' he said. "It adds a lot of theater to the shopping experience. One of the reasons brands have their own stores is to really talk about what their brands stand for, and this concept really does that for these brands."
Directly communicating the brand image to consumers through owned stores is particularly important for Sixty because it is relatively new to the U.S. market. It was only five years ago that Sixty Group began making a concerted effort to move into the States.
"We're really in the infancy stages of the brand here," he said.
The focus on retail is paying quick dividends. According to the company, sales volume for Sixty USA's retail division increased 40 percent in 2006 and is expected to grow another 40 percent this year. The U.S. has 15 stores and seven outlets, and management intends to open between five and seven locations a year. A two-level, 7,000 square-foot New York flagship is to open this fall at the original Lord & Taylor building at 901 Broadway (at 20th Street), and stores in Chicago and at the Garden State Plaza in New Jersey are slated for early 2008. Sixty Group plans to launch 40 stores internationally this year.
"Where we're entering in these new markets, when the customer finds it and when they finally understand it, we're finding we have a great business," Witkowski said.Locations that reflect the brands' images, even in major markets, have been hard to find. Witkowski acknowledged that the company could have opened a store in Las Vegas years ago but felt the Forum Shops represented a retail "epicenter." The location became available at the end of last year. Finding a space in New York also has been challenging.
"It's difficult for us to go into a modern building; we have to have something that's kind of vintagey looking or retro," Witkowski said. "I go along with a lot of Realtors and you find great spaces but they just don't fit the brand."
The new Vegas location has the potential to have the greatest financial impact on the company's retail segment and will raise its profile in the U.S. market. The Forum Shops are known to be some of the most lucrative. Annual sales per square foot are estimated to be as high as $1,300, and the store will have the Miss Sixty and Energie brands rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in fashion, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Lacroix, Coach, Montblanc, Elie Tahari and Theory.
Although aggressive retail expansion is yielding almost immediate results, Witkowski acknowledged that expanding the company's business with wholesale customers such as Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's has been quick.
"Whatever brand you have, you have to have the right formula," he said. "We're fine-tuning the formula at the moment and it seems to be working for us. It's a slow process, but we're starting to see traction."
Witkowski was appointed ceo of Sixty USA in December 2006, taking over for Mark Wiltzer, who became ceo of Sixty Canada after five years as head of the U.S. business. Previously, Witkowski was president and owner of Kona Consult Inc., where he consulted for Giorgio Armani, Elie Tahari and James Perse. Earlier in his career he served as president of the collection men's wear division of Michael Kors, where he helped launch Michael Michael Kors, president of Nautica Enterprises and president of Donna Karan International.
The challenge of growing the wholesale business is one of focus, Witkowski said. "In a department store, you're talking about having much less space and you have to give a very focused vision of what the brand stands for," he said. "That's what we're trying to do now, trying to focus in on what our brand is in that space."Witkowski is trying to take advantage of Sixty Group's Italian design staff to tailor products to the needs of its wholesale customers. He's also developing a shop-in-shop concept to raise exposure and showcase expanded product offerings like watches, jewelry and hosiery. Most important, Witkowski said he's getting a lot of support from Italy. He said the decision of company executives to start putting on runway shows during New York Fashion Week was a "real stamp of approval on what they see in the U.S. market."
"The most pleasant part about it is that our Italian home base really understands the American market and really understands the potential of the American market," he said.