Retail’s up-and-comers are ready for their shot at the big leagues.

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

A number of quickly growing chains — including Charming Charlie, Francesca’s Collections and Love Culture — are said to be talking to bankers about initial public offerings this year. Selling stock on public markets would let owners cash in on their investments and give the companies a new kind of currency to pursue growth. It will also give them higher profiles, as well as increased scrutiny.

The timing looks good. Retail stocks are not far from their all-time high, years of downturn have opened up real estate opportunities and the recovery appears to be strengthening, with March unemployment falling to 8.8 percent. The retailers planning IPOs are in good company: Prada SpA is said to have finally filed papers to go public in Hong Kong by the end of June.

Charles Chanaratsopon, founder and chief executive officer of budget-accessories retailer Charming Charlie, said the 100-door Houston-based chain plans to open another 65 stores this year. He declined to comment on a public offering.

“I like to think we’re [opening] the most units in the country,” Chanaratsopon said.

That’s catnip to investors looking for growth and a sign of rejuvenation for retail, compared with Talbots, Zales and scores of others who instead have been abandoning space.

Fashion and accessories firm Love Culture has 33 stores in 14 states, with another 25 doors planned for this year. The company, which did not return a call for comment Friday, was founded by former Forever 21 executive Jai Rhee and Bennet Koo in 2007. The retailer plans to add 100 doors over the next three years.

Houston-based Francesca’s Collections sells apparel, accessories and gifts in more than 190 stores. Private equity firm CCMP Capital Advisors bought a controlling interest in the firm last year and declined to comment on an IPO.

“Growth prospects are still king,” said Erika Maschmeyer, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., who worked on Vera Bradley Inc.’s $176 million IPO last year. Late Friday, Bradley unveiled a plan to sell an additional 6 million shares for as much as $241 million.

“The summer could be a better time for companies to go [public] because we’ll start to get more visibility into how the consumer’s going to react to higher costs for everything,” Maschmeyer said.

Higher prices for everything from cotton to oil to labor are expected to cut into profit margins for most fashion companies, especially in the second half this year.

“In general, retail stocks are still up this year-to-date,” Maschmeyer said. “As long as we don’t see a massive pullback, the environment will be a good one [for IPOs].”

The S&P Retail Index gained 0.8 percent, or 4.17 points, to 519.92 Friday.

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