LONDON — In a bid to penetrate the Japanese market more swiftly, Jimmy Choo plans to take full control of its retail joint venture with Bluebell Japan Ltd.

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The company said Thursday it will buy Bluebell’s 50 percent stake in Jimmy Choo Tokyo KK for an undisclosed price and transform the business into a fully owned subsidiary overseeing retail and wholesale.

The business will operate 16 existing stores and two others set to open in the coming months: an 864-square-foot unit in Umeda Daimaru and a 648-square-foot store in Nihonbashi Takashimaya.

Bruno Bernon, currently brand manager in charge of the joint venture, will be promoted to president of Jimmy Choo Tokyo KK, reporting to Jimmy Choo’s global chief executive Joshua Schulman. Bernon’s team will remain intact.

“This is a significant transaction for us, and the new ownership structure will allow us to grow the business and get closer to the customer,” said Schulman.

He added that while Japanese sales had grown 32 percent last year and double-digit growth is expected this year, the brand is still “under-penetrated” in the region and not present in cities such as Sapporo and Kyoto.

“We’re working on plans now to move into those cities. Now that the Japanese business is integrated into our own, we’ll be able to move at a faster pace,” he said, adding the challenge is always “finding the right real estate and adjacencies.”

Growth, he said, is coming from like-for-like sales, store openings and from customer conversion. “What we’ve seen is customers shifting from the big brands to the emerging ones. That is one reason we’ve been able to grow in what has been a challenging market for many brands,” he said.

Jimmy Choo, he said, is viewed in Japan as a luxury lifestyle accessories brand with shoes at its core, rather than a stand-alone shoe brand. He said Jimmy Choo’s bags and small leather goods have a higher penetration in the market than footwear.

Jimmy Choo formed the joint venture with Bluebell in 2006, when the brand entered the Japanese market. Bluebell will continue to act as the Japanese distributor of the new Jimmy Choo fragrance, produced under license by Inter Parfums. The fragrance launches in Japan this month and will be in-store by May.

Schulman added that Jimmy Choo will continue its joint venture with Bluebell for the Hong Kong market. Jimmy Choo opened a regional headquarters in Hong Kong in December and named Wannie Suen to the position of senior vice-president Asia, a new role for the company.

Jimmy Choo has 30 stores in the Far East, India and Australia, not including the Japanese units. Suen, he said, will oversee relationships with local partners and franchisees in the region.

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