NEW YORK — Two possible outcomes of a Barneys sale are emerging: a financial investor who would leave the company as is, or a retailer — a so-called strategic buyer — that would acquire the brand, divest less profitable locations and expand the Co-op and home departments.

Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y., said he has been approached by four separate brands that have requested financial analysis on Barneys. He declined to identify them.

“Barneys’ [success] is less about high-end service and the haberdashery quotient,” Cohen said. “That’s not the growing end of the market. They do a good job of diversifying their home products and have innovative and unique products. It is a premier property — not only the physical property, but also the very strong consumer brand recognition.”

The upscale retailer is planning to open a 9,000-square foot freestanding Co-op in February in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Keven Wilder, a retail consultant, said that the Co-op concept represents Barneys’ most promising area of expansion.

“Nobody really knows what Barneys New York stands for anymore,” Wilder said. “It used to be the avant-garde petite woman in New York, but that message doesn’t translate well to today’s larger woman. Not everyone is a size 2 or 4.”

And there isn’t agreement on what the growth potential is for more Barneys stores or an expansion of the Co-op concept.

John Brincko, the West Coast-based turnaround expert who helped navigate Barneys during the bulk of its bankruptcy, believes there’s potential for Barneys New York stores in the San Francisco, Orange County, Calif., Washington, D.C., metro area and Boston markets.

“The perception of Barneys is that it has a very boutique-like feeling because of the nature of its designer lines,’’ said Elizabeth Eveillard, an investment banking consultant who also serves as an outside director on several retail boards. “That would limit the number of stores the business can and should have.”

Even though the Co-op niche is highly competitive, Wilder believes that Co-op represents expansion opportunities in the Midwest and elsewhere. “The Co-op seems to have a more identifiable brand; I think they have a better chance with Co-op,” she said.

This story first appeared in the July 26, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A consultant specializing in the luxury market isn’t so sure about Barneys’ growth opportunities.

“These days there’s a lot less value to Barneys than years ago,’’ said the expert, who asked not to be identified. “Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman are attracting as many sophisticated upscale customers with the same brands Barneys carried than ever before. More importantly, there are less exclusive brands today than when the Pressman family was in charge.”

Barneys was founded in 1923 when Barney Pressman hung the sign at the original store at 17th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Years later, Barney’s grandsons Gene and Robert led the management team that was in place when the retailer filed its Chapter 11 petition. Gene has been given much credit for moving Barneys upscale and introducing women’s wear.

“It is really the flagship stores that are giving the punch to the bottom line,’’ the consultant said. “When you are competing in the contemporary casual market, a retailer needs eight to 10 deliveries a year. The Barneys Co-op stores only get four deliveries. A retailer that can’t get the required eight to 10 deliveries isn’t getting the margins-per-square-foot needed for a winning formula.”

— Vicki M.Young, New York; K.Y., Los Angeles, and B.W., Chicago