WASHINGTON — Hermès International is embarking on an American growth phase.
Two of the French luxury firm’s top executives descended on Washington last week for the reopening of the luxury goods company’s only store in the area, located at Fairfax Square at Tysons Corner in Vienna, Va. They said Hermès will open its 16th boutique, in Charlotte, N.C., this fall, and disclosed plans for a store on Wall Street in Manhattan next April.
Amid the buzz surrounding this expansion, Christian Blanckaert, senior executive vice president of international affairs at Hermès International, took a moment to dispel speculation that members of the controlling Dumas and Hermès families might be willing to sell the firm.
“I can tell you this is completely wrong and completely untrue,” said Blanckaert. “In my opinion, the family is absolutely not discussing anything like that. Nobody is talking internally about selling anything. This company is not on the market.”
Blanckaert and Robert Chavez, president and chief executive officer of Hermès USA, said the company’s focus is on growth in America. Hermès plans to open a 3,000-square-foot store, with 2,000 square feet of selling space, at the South Park Shopping Center in Charlotte, and a 5,000-square-foot unit, with 3,200 square feet of selling space, on Wall Street next April.
“We think we have the market potential,” said Blanckaert. “We believe [in the case of New York] there is another city which we want to be a part of, which is the city of Wall Street: not far from Ground Zero and all of those places where many people are rebuilding. We decided we have to have a store in this part of the city — very far away from Madison [Avenue, the site of Hermès’ first store] and in another city because we feel there are several New Yorks.”
Blanckaert said the company plans to open two stores annually in the U.S. for the next five years and ticked off a list of potential locations, including Seattle; San Diego; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Denver, and Minneapolis.
“We are fully confident in the American market,” said Blanckaert. “In fact, we want to double our sales in the United States in the next five years.”
He said Hermès’ sales grew 7.2 percent in 2005 compared with 2004; sales growth in the U.S. hovered around 10 percent in the same time period.
“We’ve grown quicker in America than the average growth of the entire company,” he said.
When Hermès isn’t focused on opening boutiques, it’s busy expanding and renovating existing stores, which brought the two executives here last week. Hermès nearly doubled the square footage at its store in Vienna, increasing the selling space by 1,500 square feet to 2,500 square feet, according to Chavez.
“We used to have a gallery space here for exhibits and events, and that was a great space to have, but the business needs made us look at having to expand capacity for selling, and by doing so, we’re now able to showcase more product categories in a much better way and to expand our offerings in several of them,” said Chavez.
Ready-to-wear for women and men was expanded and is displayed more prominently, while the home and tabletop areas were enlarged and sitting areas were added to give the overall feel of “lightness and airiness where the eye gravitates,” said Chavez.
There are some differences between Virginia-Washington customers and New York customers.
“First of all, a lot of people are international-minded here, but also work for the government,” said Blanckaert. “It is a very different spectrum of people that is very local and very American.”
Blanckaert noted that local residents account for the majority of sales at its Virginia store, compared with a much larger tourist component at the Hermès store in New York. Scarves are also a big seller in the D.C. area.
With scarves, ties and politics in mind, Blanckaert sent a red tie to President Bush while he was in town last week and a scarf to First Lady Laura Bush, emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty.