Anthropologie store in Paris

PARIS — Embarking on an expansion drive in Europe, Anthropologie has opened two stores in Paris in a week, in the Marais and in the center near the Palais Garnier, the city’s historic opera house.

“The plan was always to go across Europe very quickly,” said Peter Ruis, managing director of Anthropologie International, noting that the brand had arrived about 10 years ago in Europe with a store in London.

“It didn’t happen, so my job’s been to get that expansion quickly,” added the London-based executive, speaking from a sofa with a patchwork rug motif that sat in a nook of the store. Ruis expressed confidence about the brand’s potential with French customers.

“The brand has a very French, Parisian sensibility — in our stores in London a significant amount of our customers are French and, by nature, Parisian tourists,” he said.

Finding the right property was a challenge. Prime real estate in Paris is fetching ever higher prices as brands adapt to shifting consumption habits by opting for fewer but more spectacular stores, in choice locations to ensure foot traffic.

“Originally we were looking for a big flagship on one of the big streets, but increasingly, as the way retail has changed, we felt it was better to go in with two of the boutique stores with more character in the building, and build the brand in perhaps a more underground way, a more secret way with the Marais store, and the smaller shop here,” he added.

The brand has 13 stores in London, and opened one in Barcelona earlier this year and another in Dusseldorf last year. Amsterdam and Hamburg are up next.

Anthropologie has online sales available in Europe, with translated sites in France and Germany, with Spanish and Italian sites on the way.

“The minute we opened the shop last week in the Marais, I think we lifted [sales] 5 percent online, straightaway,” he said. The executive noted that the site in France had existed for a while but without the physical presence of a store, it has been just “bubbling along.”

“When people talk about bricks and clicks, there is still the relationship the whole time — if you walk in and see stuff, this will have a huge effect,” he said, adding he hoped the stores would increase the brand’s notoriety across France and not just in Paris.

“When you do the research, it’s a very interesting brand — lots of really good brands people love and people hate,” he said.

“Anthropologie, you’ve either never heard of it or you know it and love it — so awareness is a huge thing for us and because our shops are so unique, the way we build, the way we do all the artwork, people really enjoy the physical experience, so it’s almost a bit old-school in terms of when we have a shop, we create that awareness and that brings people online,” he added.

“I suppose a lot of other retailers are just saying, well, we can just go online, but the whole essence of Anthropologie is in the stores,” he said.

The brand started in 1992, a pre-Internet era, so it had that “old-fashioned strategy of making sure there’s a shop in every town,” he recalled.

It has 200 shops and Internet sales account for around 30 percent of total sales, he said of the subsidiary of Urban Outfitters Inc.

In Europe, the plan is to have a strategy organized around a small retail footprint, with around 25 stores in the United Kingdom, and in countries like Germany that are less focused around one capital city like in France, to have around four or five stores. In France, the brand is aiming for around three or four stores.

In its first week in France, the company has done better than it expected — meeting its targets in two days, he said, with consumers particularly interested in fashion.

“Interestingly, in terms of the Parisian customer, typically speaking [when] people come in and discover, they might buy a lot of home [goods products] to start with — they might just buy a cup —, actually in the Marais, they bought more fashion right away,” he said.

To cater to the brand’s European consumer — more than half are under 34 — the store offers a different assortment than in the U.S. Anthropologie will also adjust some of its products for European consumers, like making furniture slightly smaller, for example, and offering more outerwear for colder weather.

The Opera store is on 38 Avenue de l’Opéra, covering more than 3,000 square feet of space, with a domed glass ceiling in the center. Piles of dishware sit on shelves next to dresses and jumpsuits priced at 150 euros, while a fancy pink velvet sofa-chair costs 945 euros.

An artwork installation, made by Anthropologie design teams, sits in the center, made from 3,000 ginkgo leaves, while French artist Florence Balducci painted murals in the Marais store.

“We work with a lot of French brands and French designers,” he said. “We always try and dial up the local connectivity.”