LOS ANGELES — With his company stock down about 70 percent in the last year, Vans Inc. chief executive Gary Schoenfeld had a tough sell on his hands, but he piqued potential investor interest with his renewed merchandising focus on women.

"We see the women’s business as very significant and exciting. It used to approach 30 to 40 percent of our business, and we’re not uncomfortable about getting it back to that," Schoenfeld told an audience at the fourth annual B. Riley & Co. Investor Conference last Thursday at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott hotel.

Currently, he said women’s apparel and footwear make up "the low-double-digit range" of overall sales. He said women’s growth could occur in the next six to 18 months for the Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based firm.

Schoenfeld declined to discuss specifics prior to the company’s earnings conference call this Thursday.

Attracting about 250 attendees, the conference showcased 25-minute presentations from 48 companies, primarily from the consumer and apparel goods and technology sectors.

Chief financial officer Kyle Wescoat touted the international and production focus of licensing and brand development group Cherokee Inc. The Van Nuys, Calif.-based firm, broker of the 2000 licensing deal with Target and Mossimo Inc., introduced the Cherokee brand to France’s Carrefour SA and the U.K.’s Tesco last fall. Recently, it signed with Hearst Publications to represent the House Beautiful brand.

Meanwhile, Manny Marrero, chief financial officer at Santa Monica-based Mossimo, stressed the company’s growth strategy through Target’s expansion and its acquisition interest in other brands, although none are in the pipeline. Other sales drivers are new product categories and Mossimo’s international push, noting its alliance with the Zellers division of Hudson’s Bay Co. in Canada that includes Mossimo clothing and home accents bowing this spring to replace the Martha Stewart brand.

"We’re adding a number of designers to the group to grow our business in housewares," Marrero said.

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