NEW YORK — Liz Claiborne will expand its overseas retail program this year, adding 14 countries to its roster of 28.
Robert Bernard, president of Liz Claiborne International, who spoke on global trends in retailing at the National Retail Federation Convention here Tuesday, said the company’s international retail ventures include in-store shops, selling to other retailers and plans for about 20 freestanding Liz Claiborne stores by the end of the year. The company now has about eight, he said.
Among the countries in which it will open, he said, are China, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Costa Rica, Mexico, Malaysia, Sweden and Indonesia.
Claiborne opened its first international freestanding store in Singapore in December 1992. It had a first-year volume of $5 million. Its international retailing began in Canada in June 1988, Bernard said. He noted that international business accounted for roughly 5 percent, or $110 million, of its estimated $2.2 billion in total sales last year.
Bernard added that other apparel companies should consider options — whether as retailers, wholesalers, in franchises or joint ventures — to make the most of international expansion.
Bernard was joined at the NRF seminar by Alfred F. Lynch, president and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney International, which operates in five countries and is exploring expansion in several key areas.
The executives spoke about opportunities for American companies to take their retailing concepts abroad.
“We’ve studied potential markets to determine a broad acceptance of American products and enough critical mass to support many locations,” Lynch said.
He advised retailers to match their strengths to the needs of the market. As an example, he cited strong international awareness of Penney’s private brands and its vast global sourcing abilities as ways to maximize foreign sales.
He said in many other countries there are no department stores, and mall developers abroad are looking for anchor tenants.
Lynch said he feels the biggest opportunities now exist in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
He added that Mexico is the gateway to South America, and he pinpointed Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as having strong potential for American retailing. He emphasized Chile in particular, since it has very open trade regulations and, he said, is a good example to its South American neighbors.
In the Asian-Pacific Rim countries, Japan and Singapore are “very attractive,” he said, noting that China is likely to develop as a powerful trading block on its own, although it still has some barriers.
“There is enormous pent-up demand in China for American products,” Lynch said, “but retailing is still very restricted there. A large-scale retailer is held to one location in a single city.”
Larry Katzen, a partner in Arthur Anderson & Co., who moderated the session, said it’s difficult for any retailer with global aspirations to ignore China.
“Even if only 1 percent of the Chinese population is considered in the upper class, that’s still 120 million people,” he said.
He added that the South American markets have the potential to grow to four times the size of the Mexican market.
Australia, Katzen said, is another area of opportunity for Americans.
“Australians are looking at the successful retail concepts first developed in the U.S. 15 years ago,” he said, noting that they are beginning concepts like Toys “R” Us and Home Depot.