Heading Over the Pond: U.K.’s Topshop Revs Up For Launch in New York

Topshop has a clear strategy for its upcoming assault on the U.S. market — transplant the high-octane, trendy experience of its London flagship.

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NEW YORK — Topshop has a clear strategy for its upcoming assault on the U.S. market — transplant the high-octane, trendy experience of its London flagship.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Those same spunky harlequin dresses, tuxedo jackets and sequined hot pants that play well in the U.K. are coming to Broadway in mid-October with a 40,000-square-foot store composed of four selling floors; glossy shelving; futuristic lighting tubes and a DJ booth, both suspended from the ceiling; an “army” of mannequins; a shoe lounge; 32 changing rooms, and a VIP suite for the expected celebrity clientele.

For a moderate-to-better-priced store, the service, executives contend, will rival that of a luxury retailer, with personal shoppers, or “stylists,” for women for the Topshop line, and “style advisers” for men for the company’s Topman brand. The Topshop to Go at-home shopping service and Express for home delivery will also be offered. As for pricing, that will adhere to the London strategy — no price promotions.

The new store will be at 478 Broadway.

“This is going to be Topshop in all its glory, identical. It’s not going to be Americanized. It will be London transferred to New York,” said Sir Philip Green, the retailer’s owner, during an interview at Industria, the West Village showroom space where many items from the vast collection are on display.

Green arrived in town this week for some advance publicity, and to prowl for other Manhattan sites. On his radar — 34th Street, and Fifth Avenue and Lexington Avenue in the Fifties. He said he’s not close to securing a second site, but things could change during this visit. “I’ve got 10 sites to look at in three days. If the right deal comes up, I would do it,” Green said. “If I find three, I will open three.”

But nothing other than the SoHo opening is imminent, he added.

As far as bringing Topshop to America’s malls, “There is no way we are going that route.” He prefers street-level locations, at the right rent.

Green also prefers sticking to full-price. He acknowledged Americans are used to shopping for fashion that’s deeply discounted and that retailers are notorious price promoters. “Everybody is fighting on price. That’s not our business.”

Is he worried about the timing of Topshop’s U.S. debut, with the economy not likely to recover? For the near-term, maybe, but he’s in it for the long term. “The U.S. economy and the U.K. economy are similar. They both have a lot of issues. But if you got something special giving people a reason to shop, you will do business,” said Green, who is one of Britain’s richest men with a net worth estimated at more than $6 billion and retail holdings that include department store BHS, Miss Selfridge and other fashion chains.

He declined to say how much volume he expects on Broadway. But sources indicated the company hopes for $30 million to $40 million in first-year sales.

That, of course, is nowhere near the enormous volume generated at Topshop’s famed Oxford Circus store in London. The 90,000-square-foot U.K. flagship is adding about 12,000 square feet of space, bringing it up to about 100,000 square feet, and is projected to hit $300 million in sales this year.

The Topshop chain, including Topshop for women’s wear and Topman for men’s wear, is projected at $1.8 billion in sales and north of $300 million in profits for 2008, for a more than 10 percent increase. “We are trending well, as tough as it’s been,” Green said.

In Europe, new styles are displayed virtually every day at Topshop, and there’s a new major trend story introduced every month in the front of each store. Generally, there are four or five mini collections, each presenting a different trend, but with crossover possibilities.

In women’s, Topshop of late has done well with the oversize T-shirt, retailing from $30 to $40, and skinny bottom look, including the “drain pipe” jean, from $40 to $60. The store is also big on dresses, particularly in prom, going out, and Cabaret-inspired silhouettes, clown collars, bows and belts, often in the $150 range.

Prints are important as well, and, for fall, are Art Deco and bandstand inspired, with flags and stars and stripes motifs. The retailer also tests spring looks during November to get out first with a hot trend.

“It’s all about mixing up key pieces,” said Emma Farrow, design manager.

In men’s wear, Topman resonates with an outfit comprised of a cardigan, skinny jeans and a trenchcoat. Whether the New York store introduces new styles as often as the British sites is still to be determined. “Every night, we will be figuring it out,” Green said. “This is the fashion business. If you take a month to change it, you’re dead. Topshop as a business is about newness.”

Given the distinct lack of success British retailers have had in attacking the U.S. market, for now Green is focusing on just getting the first store right, before rolling out in the rest of America. “This is not a vanity trip. We know there can be accidents. We want to get it right. We are playing for the long game.”

Operating from several thousand miles away does pose more of a risk than he’s taken on before, he admits, and SoHo is the first international store owned by the parent company Arcadia, which operates 2,400 stores in the U.K., 310 of which are Topshops. The group also has 400 international stores, which are all franchises. Of the international stores, 110 are Topshop units.

He believes Topshop isn’t really foreign to Americans, noting the store’s international reputation and the fact that for nine months, it’s been selling online in the U.S.

“I think there is an opening” in the U.S. for Topshop, said Green, adding he considers all fashion retailers to be the competition. Given its moderate to better prices, Topshop does seem most positioned to go up against Banana Republic, various department stores, and even Men’s Warehouse, with men’s suits in the $250 range. There is a wide age appeal that Green said goes from 15 to 50, though the bulk of the shoppers are in their 20s.

“We do have a broad canvas. If you go through the rails, you see the capability of appealing to a wide demographic,” he said. “You actually see mothers and daughters shopping together.”

But the most important element for getting it together in the U.S., he added, is telling the story the right way. “It’s important that people are clear about the offering.”

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