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Taking the Multibrand Approach

Several Italian multibrand fashion groups have a strategy to lure new customers to their boutiques: carry all company brands under one roof.

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MILAN — Call it one-stop shopping.

As luxury spending dwindles, the world economy shows few signs of recovery and fashion companies are revisiting their store concepts to avoid sameness, a group of Italian multibrand fashion conglomerates has a strategy to lure new customers to their boutiques and stimulate sales: carry all company brands under one roof.

Over the past year, Aeffe, which produces Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, Narciso Rodriguez, Rifat Ozbek, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Pollini, rolled out stores called P-Box, which sell accessories produced by Aeffe for its entire stable of brands. “We plan to extend this concept and open stores that carry all our labels’ ready-to-wear collections this year,” said Aeffe owner Massimo Ferretti.

Last year, entrepreneur Diego Della Valle introduced a retail concept called Dev, opening five boutiques that carry his firm’s Tod’s, Hogan, Brooks Bros. and Acqua di Parma brands. This year, Della Valle plans to open four more Dev stores in Italy, including one here, and he expects to explore other European cities.

Mariella Burani, which manufactures its namesake line and owns the Mila Schön and Stephen Fairchild brands, among others, is currently looking for locations to house all its brands.

“This kind of multibrand store offers customers a wider selection of products — all under one roof,” said Giovanni Burani, chief executive officer of the family-owned company. Burani said it was also a convenient economic option. “We believe it’s a winning choice for us because with one financial investment, we provide a diversified retailing space that provides all of our brands,” he said. Burani is looking at spaces that are at least 2,700 square feet, in northern Italy.

A Tod’s spokesman said Dev stores are located in cities where there is “spending power” and where there is no conflict with existing flagships.

“We believe in the Dev format so much that we have set up a separate company and staff to develop it,” said a Tod’s spokesman. Dev stores should measure at least 2,160 square feet. “But if the location allows it, there is no limit.”

The Dev store in Bergamo, about an hour north of Milan, has three stories and 4,320 square feet. Dev stores feature shiny steel fixtures, unfinished wood floors, and shelves lined in natural hides.

Aeffe opened the first P-Box in March 2001 and

Ferretti said the company will count six by this March, all in Italy. “I think this is a winning idea and a valid alternative to our [single-] brand stores,” said Ferretti. “Customers are curious and eclectic and want to be able to compare designs and styles.”Ferretti said he plans to test this concept outside Italy this year.

Armando Branchini, vice president of Intercorporate, a luxury goods analyst here, expressed a positive view of group multibrand stores. “It’s logical and financially sound. These stores will make the most of the square footage and make money. These multibrand groups don’t need to open this kind of stores for image purposes, it’s more product and less image.”

Branchini said these stores mirror the concept and success of independent multibrand stores Corso Como and Colette: “Their formula is winning because the positioning of the offer is homogenous in the consumer’s mind.”

Tonino Perna, ceo of IT Holding, which owns Gianfranco Ferré, Malo, Romeo Gigli, Exté, Gentry Portofino and manufacturing company Ittierre, banks on the concept of regrouping all brands in one store.

“It is a must, however, to safeguard the image of each brand and convey each designer’s ideas,” said Perna. IT Holding’s first multibrand store opened last year in Dailan, in the southern China. He also insisted success was based on excellent service and restocking merchandise quickly.

Perna said he was looking at spaces between 21,600 and 43,200 square feet and that he plans 10 boutiques by the end of the year. The first will open in Padova, a half hour from Venice.

While the idea might be just the ticket for many fashion groups, it’s not right for everyone.

Domenico De Sole, president and ceo of Gucci Group, said that, while he “respects his colleagues’ strategies,” he believes this concept store does not make sense for Gucci at the moment.

“We’ve been working to convey the single identity of each of our brands and we intend to continue with this strategy,” said De Sole. Gucci Group’s stable includes its signature label, as well as Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, among others.

Branchini said brands from the Gucci and Prada stables “have autonomous and strong personalities and sold together in a commercial context, they would not be displayed to their advantage.”

Conversely, executives spoke highly of independent multibrand sales points, although Prada ceo Patrizio Bertelli said he felt he had more independence with his own stores. “Multibrand store owners face strong competition and need to change their strategies accordingly,” he said. Prada owns Jil Sander, Helmut Lang, Genny, Church’s, Azzedine Alaïa, and Car Shoe.

“Multibrand stores are useful,” said De Sole. “Customers go to boutiques such as Corso Como, for example, [owned by Carla Sozzani], to see what’s cool, what’s trendy and it’s important to be there.”

Perna added: “They are more modern than [single-] brand stores, more research goes into them, and their owners watch and promote new and emerging designers.”

Ferretti said this was what made multibrand stores competitive and interesting. “There is a risk of losing track of reality by monitoring sales in your own stores only. You need the confrontation with the market and other labels, and the challenge in order to grow and improve,” said Ferretti.

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