Stuart Weitzman Eyes Retail Rollout

Recently opened flagship boutiques in New York and Chicago are just the start of the company's global expansion plan.

The Stuart Weitzman flagship on Fifth Avenue.

“I never thought I would splurge for a store on Fifth Avenue.”

This story first appeared in the October 31, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, discussing his 1,600-square-foot flagship, at 675 Fifth Avenue opened earlier this month, and how he’s thinking big about retail expansion.

Two weeks ago, Weitzman opened an 1,800-square-foot flagship boutique at 701 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and in December, shops will open in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Mall of America and Tampa. For 2012, openings are slated for New Orleans; Hackensack and Short Hills, N.J.; Palo Alto, Calif.; Los Angeles; Chestnut Hill, Mass; Charlotte, N.C., and Boca Raton, Fla.

Overseas, 35 stores are planned next year for Korea, Taiwan, Asia, the Middle East, Germany, Spain, Italy and Vienna. And in China, where there are currently three stores, 50 are seen operating in three years.

“Landlords are looking to fill space,” Weitzman said, explaining why he’s rolling out stores now. In addition, “Women want to find something wonderfully made, styled right, and doesn’t mean they have to spend a fortune on it. I think I am kind of benefitting from women looking for a little more value for the buck. It drives you on.

“On Fifth Avenue, from 53rd to 59th Street, you have the highest-priced goods in the world.” But he says he’s an “entry point luxury brand” and can compete with the most luxurious of brands in the immediate vicinity. In fact, he sees Fifth Avenue becoming his largest-volume store, projecting $8 million in sales in the first year thereby, matching volume at his Madison Avenue store, the current revenue leader in the Weitzman store fleet. In subsequent years, he projects the Fifth Avenue store will generate $10 million annually.

The Fifth and Michigan Avenue sites were designed with a contemporary look by Italian avant-garde architect Fabio November. The sites were previously occupied by Nine West, which, like Weitzman, is owned by Jones Apparel Group. Jones has a 55 percent stake in Weitzman.

“Jones saw us as a good investment, with great growth opportunity and entering a market they are not in, and we could benefit from Jones’ back-office operations and the clout it has negotiating leases,” Weitzman said. “They taught us how to build stores more efficiently.”

However, the expansion, he said, is being financed entirely through Weitzman operations. “The company has always financed its own expansion. Jones hasn’t been called upon.”

Even with the rollout, “retail is still only a small part of our business,” and not about to overtake the wholesale portion, Weitzman said. His shoes are sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Scoop, Nordstrom, Lane Crawford, Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods, as well as at Weitzman’s 34 stores in the U.S. and 44 abroad. “Wholesale is three quarters of the business; retail, one quarter,” he said. “It will be pretty much the same, maybe retail will creep up 5 percent.”