Franki by Francesca’s, the tween girls brand started by Francesca’s a year ago, is on the fast track.
The first Franki by Francesca’s boutique opens Friday in Memorial City Mall in Houston, where the Francesca’s fashion specialty business is based. The second will open in Tysons Corner Center, in Virginia near Washington D.C., on Nov. 15. The stores, each with 1,400 square feet of space, are both considered pop-ups. If successful, the company will exercise options to keep them open longer. Six-month leases were signed.
In addition, a Franki by Francesca’s website, frankishop.com, launches Nov. 15.
“Last year, Franki was just a great idea that the team brought to fruition in a little over 100 days. It was originally an online-only test at Francesca’s, but we brought it to five physical locations for holiday last year and within six weeks it was scaled to 100 Francesca’s locations,” Andrew Clarke, chief executive officer of Francesca’s, told WWD. “We have continued to grow the Franki business.”
He described the Franki customer as different yet synergistic with the Francesca customer. “She’s a tween shopping with her sister or mom who are shopping Francesca’s. But the Franki customer deserves her own space and dedicated experience. It was a small assortment sitting in a Francesca’s boutique. That is not the case now.”
The Franki shops will debut with a 100-style holiday collection, and will add styles in December and for spring 2022. The collection includes sportswear, dresses, outerwear, jewelry, accessories, gift and shoes. Clarke described the Franki look as “adult style amended to be tween-appropriate. The point of view is cool rather than cute. It’s a sophisticated collection of mini-me where appropriate. We are not selling basics. It’s fashion for tweens transitioning to teenagers.” Prices start at $16, though most of the merchandise ranges between $28 and $38, with the majority of dresses priced from $38 to $44.
The two Franki by Francesca’s boutiques have more room than typical Francesca’s stores. “They have the space to engage socially,” Clarke said. “You can’t do that in a Francesca’s boutique.”
Keeping the two Franki by Francesca’s pop-up shops open at least through the 2021 holiday season “gives us enough time to get a read on the business. If it’s good, they will stay open beyond the holiday,” Clarke said.
Looking into the future, Clarke said Franki by Francesca’s has “a nationwide opportunity, and an international opportunity.” While no additional Franki by Francesca’s stores are planned yet, Clarke said sites are being scouted for potential openings next year.
Part of the motivation for opening Franki by Francesca’s shops stems from this year’s rebound in stores across most of the retail landscape, after being severely impacted by the pandemic in 2020.
Francesca’s had 711 locations at the end of 2019 when the specialty retailer generated $407.5 million in volume, but the fleet was pared down to 454 stores a year ago, and currently there are 466 stores. The modest growth in store units seems surprising given that last February, in an interview shortly after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Clarke said Francesca’s new owners had committed to keeping at least 275 stores open. Francesca’s filed for Chapter 11 protection in December 2020, and was lifted relatively quickly out of the bankruptcy proceedings in February 2021 through a sale to Francesca’s Acquisition LLC, an affiliate of TerraMar Capital LLC; Tiger Capital Group LLC, and SB360 Capital Group LLC.
Back then, “The conversations were very fluid and ongoing,” Clarke said. “But sitting here at the beginning of November we have managed to maintain a large part of our fleet and in addition have opened some new locations and worked with landlords to reposition some locations,” Clarke said. “We have also been remodeling a number of existing locations.…Bricks-and-mortar has come back strongly this year. We are relatively happy with how business has continued to grow through the year.” He declined to provide any financial statistics on the company.
“It’s been quite an active year as far as physical retail,” added Clarke. “Franki is an evolving chapter of Francesca’s. The two new Franki locations take us to 468 stores. We are in active discussions with landlords for some other physical retail opportunities.” He said it’s the company’s “firm intention” to scale Franki by Francesca’s to more malls with more partners.
Francesca’s has gone through a “successful reboot,” Clarke said. “We have remained pretty agile and tested a lot of new ideas,” some successful, others not, he acknowledged.
To support the company’s growth, Clarke recently filled some key positions that had been vacant since the company was bought out of bankruptcy, including two senior vice presidents: Canetta Reid, chief people officer, and Jann Parish, chief marketing officer. Reid is a former senior director of employment compliance and policy at Walmart Stores and has held human resources, legal and compliance roles at ConocoPhillips, Whirlpool and Meijer Inc. Parish, a 20-year veteran of the consumer and lifestyle space, was a chief merchandising officer at Victoria’s Secret and also Green Growth Brands, and was once executive vice president at Calvin Klein.
In addition, Franck Gourlin was named chief financial officer. He held finance and strategy roles at Levi Strauss & Co. for several years, and is a former CFO at Sears Softlines and Kmart Apparel.
“They will enable us to accelerate the growth of Francesca’s for the long term while continuing to incubate new ideas to better serve our customers,” Clarke said.
Asked why the brick-and-mortar strategy for Franki by Francesca’s begins with pop-ups, rather than longer-term commitments, Clarke said, “While the Franki test has been very successful in a Francesca’s environment, opening a store for Franki carries a certain amount of risk, requiring getting the right look, the right feel and the right location.”
There will be grand opening parties at each Franki by Francesca’s location featuring holiday TikTok backgrounds, DJs, monogram stations and treats for customers.