Hobbs London is ready to spread its understated British aesthetic across the U.S.
And where else to begin launching freestanding Hobbs stores than in the affluent, tony village of Greenwich, Conn., which is named after a borough in London and has an English country aura of its own. The 2,400-square-foot Hobbs shop, located at 243 Greenwich Avenue, has set a grand opening for April 26, though a soft opening will occur Saturday.
“This is a very big moment for Hobbs,” Jim Walters, president of Hobbs USA, told WWD during an exclusive interview. “International growth is a focus for the company.”
In the U.S., Walters sees Hobbs opening an average of two stand-alone stores annually beginning in 2018, and ultimately operating up to 25 stores.
“When you are a European brand, and very much rooted in our British heritage, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have customers across the entire U.S. You have to pick your locations carefully,” Walters said.
In addition, Hobbs concession shops are proliferating inside Bloomingdale’s stores, and Hobbs is considering extending the life of its pop-up shop in the Westchester Mall in White Plains, N.Y.
Hobbs entered the U.S. two-and-a-half years ago by opening five concession shops inside various Bloomingdale’s locations, giving Hobbs “a good feel for the customer base,” Walters said.
There are 19 concessions at different Bloomingdale’s and 23 are expected to be up and running by the end of this year. “Maybe 30 Bloomingdale’s concessions would be right for us. At some point, we’ll hit the threshold. We have a strong relationship with them,” Walters said.
Asked if additional distribution channels beyond Bloomingdale’s would be considered, Walters replied, “Currently not right now.”
With the 2,500-square-foot Hobbs pop-up shop in the Westchester Mall, “We have a one-year lease there, but we are in the process of continuing it or converting it to a permanent store in the mall,” said Walters, who previously worked for Karen Millen, another British brand.
Hobbs was launched by Yoram and Marilyn Anselm with its first store in Hampstead in London in 1981. There are now more than 140 branches in the U.K. and Ireland as well as concession shops in the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Sweden, as well as the U.S. The bulk of the business is in the U.K., where Hobbs has 54 stores, a pop-up shop, nine outlets and 102 department store concessions. Hobbs, which generates 120 million pounds, or more than $150 million in revenues, has been owned by the 3i private equity firm for 12 years.
The collection is a favorite of the Duchess of Cambridge, and typically attracts a professional, busy woman seeking tasteful, timeless, but not flashy clothes.
Among the bestsellers are the washable suitings and dresses, particularly occasion dresses. The collection is all private label, designed in Hobbs’ London atelier. Walters said Hobbs most directly competes against Hugo Boss and Theory with suitings and wear-to-work clothes, and competes with Ann Taylor from a lifestyle point of view, but not on price point or style. Tops generally are priced from around $60 to less than $200, while dresses are primarily in the $200 to $700 range.
Along with the collection’s occasionwear, casual styles, work attire, shoes, leather goods and scarves, the store offers The Palace Collection by Hobbs, which is created in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that cares for six palaces, including the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.
With its gilt mirrors, silver tea trays, antique display fixtures and bespoke cushions, the Greenwich store is inspired by elegant British living, while American craftsmanship is woven through with locally-sourced lighting, furniture and upholstery, according to Hobbs’ creative director Sandy Verdon.
“We look forward to giving the successful, confident women of Greenwich an alternative label,” Walters added, describing the line as contemporary clothing and accessories, both casual and formal, with “a playful British twist.”