Express Inc. has entered into a franchise agreement with Edcon Group that will bring the brand to South Africa by the end of the year.

Edcon, a retail franchise operator, is scheduled to launch Express brand shops-in-shop in Edcon’s Edgars department stores by the end of the year and roll out standalone stores beginning in 2015.

Michael Weiss, chairman and chief executive officer of Columbus, Ohio-based Express, called the move into South Africa the “next step in our international expansion strategy. It’s a terrific market in terms of having a customer base our brand should resonate with.”

Express operates more than 600 specialty and outlet stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Internationally, the brand is represented by 11 franchise stores in the Middle East and 15 in Latin America.

The company said late Thursday, upon its release of first-quarter results, that it would whittle down its domestic store count by about 50 over the next three years as leases expire, a move expected to boost annual profits by between $5 million and $8 million.

Edcon is purported to be the largest non-food retailer in South Africa, doing business through department and specialty stores in its Edgars division, the mass channel through its discount division and CNA, its stationery, book, games, movies, music, electronics and mobile device unit.

“Having such a fashion-forward, established brand will enhance our ever-growing international brand offering in South Africa,” said Jurgen Schreiber, ceo of Edcon.

Edcon’s franchise arrangements include monobrand stores under names including Topshop/Topman, Tom Tailor, Dune, La Senza and Accessorize. In addition to South Africa, it operates stores in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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