LONDON — Furla is raising its game.
This story first appeared in the December 30, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The family-owned Italian company is moving beyond leather handbags and into accessories such as eyewear, footwear, jewelry, watches, scarves and small leather goods in a bid to transform itself into a lifestyle brand that appeals to a wider audience.
Furla has also been revamping its stores worldwide, with architectural elements inspired by the firm’s headquarters in an 18th-century villa in Bologna, and materials including rosewood and Italian travertine marble for an overall lighter and more modern feel.
“We are not just a handbag shop,” Eraldo Poletto, Furla’s chief executive officer, said in an interview here as the brand was marking the reopening of the store at 221 Regent Street, one of its most important flagships.
“We’ve grown a lot over the past three years, and we now need to make the leap to compete in a market that is more dynamic than ever.”
The Regent Street store, which spans 1,938 square feet over two floors, is across the street from a Michael Michael Kors accessories shop and a few minutes’ walk from a new Longchamp unit, which are among the brand’s competitors.
Regent Street isn’t the first Furla unit to undergo a facelift, but it’s a major one in terms of tourist traffic. Some 45 stores worldwide have been transformed since August 2011, and there are more to come: 25 stores are set to be refurbished in 2014.
The brand is paying particular attention to the cities where Furla makes its money, which are those frequented by global travelers and shoppers. The company refers to the cities as a “Silk Road” that starts in Tokyo, and moves through places including Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Dubai, Moscow, Rome, Florence, London and New York.
A new store in Florence opened earlier this month, while Furla plans to open a Manhattan flagship on Fifth Avenue in May. As reported, the company inked a joint-venture deal with Hong Kong-based Fung Group to open more than 100 Furla stores in Greater China. The brand has 24 stores in that market.
Japan is currently Furla’s largest market, accounting for 27 percent of the company’s revenue. The brand has 69 stores in the country and the company is looking to leverage its presence in Japan as it expands to other Asian markets.
Europe, the Middle East and Africa account for half of the business, while Asia Pacific represents 14 percent and the U.S. 9 percent.
In 2012, sales hit 212 million euros, or $274 million, a 38 percent rise over 2010, and Poletto said the company is expecting to see “high double-digit growth” going forward.
Furla is privately owned by the founding Furlanetto family, and Poletto said it is self-funded, there is no debt, and EBITDA, or earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization, are robust.
“We’re positioned well — we’re not competing with the likes of luxury companies such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, but we are fighting against them for prime real estate space — and, in this case, size matters,” he said.
Furla does about 80 percent of its business through its own retail shops, including franchises, while the rest comes from wholesale. It has more than 300 travel retail doors open worldwide, and Poletto said the plan is to expand that channel, too.
There are other plans afoot in addition to retail expansion: In February, Furla will launch a Chinese-language e-commerce site (it already has dedicated sites for Europe and Japan) and may look to introduce a fragrance.
The brand already has an eyewear license with the Italian manufacturer De Rigo SpA, and Poletto said the company is open to forging similar partnerships with companies such as De Rigo that have a specific expertise.
Ready-to-wear is not on the agenda. Poletto said the focus will remain on accessories, and on showcasing them in cultural and artistic venues such as Tokyo’s National Museum, where the brand launched its spring collection in November. The spring campaign was shot by Marton Perlaki and Philippe Lacombe.
He added that more projects like Furla Candy, a collection of color-drenched handbags made from PVC and leather, are in the cards. “That was a cross-generational product, and it revitalized the brand,” Poletto said. “We have to continue to have the courage not to play it safe.”