By Jean E. Palmieri
with contributions from Evan Clark
 on November 15, 2018
The Levi's store in Times Square.

NEW YORK — Levi’s is going even bigger in New York.

Just as Levi Strauss & Co. prepares to cut the ribbon on a Times Square flagship that will rank as its largest store in the world, it is also readying paperwork for an initial public offering on Wall Street, a source confirmed to WWD.

The timing makes sense for the denim brand, which has been on a roll under the leadership of chief executive officer Chip Bergh and just logged its fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit revenue growth with the women’s and the direct-to-consumer businesses both clicking along nicely. (Although privately held, the company still reports results to regulators quarterly because it has publicly traded debt).

This would be the second time the company took to Wall Street. Levi’s went public in 1971, but the company was back firmly under the control of the Haas family after a 1996 leveraged buyout. An IPO would see the Haas family or company sell some of its stock into the public market, raising money and allowing the value of the stock to fluctuate more readily.

According to CNBC, which first reported the IPO effort, the offering could come in the first quarter, raising up to $800 million and value the firm at $5 billion.

When asked about the IPO, a company spokeswoman said, “We do not comment on marketplace rumors or speculation.” Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, which are said to be working with Levi’s, both declined to comment. 

Before word of the IPO leaked, the company was busy touting its new outpost at the crossroads of the world.

The Times Square store, at 1535 Broadway between 45th and 46th streets, officially opens on Friday.

Not only is the store large — just under 17,000 square feet — it also offers a number of firsts for the denim brand including its largest tailor shop, largest and most comprehensive product assortment and a number of unique experiences it expects to set the store apart.

“Our goal is to convey the stature and energy of the brand,” said Jen Sey, chief marketing officer.

Levi’s had operated a smaller store at 44th Street and Broadway but that unit was less than half the size, around 8,800 square feet. This new, two-level unit is in a “much better, more trafficked location,” Sey said, adding that some 50 million tourists visit Times Square every year.

For the first time, the new store offers “every collection made by Levi’s,” she said, including Made & Crafted, Premium, Authorized Vintage, Vintage Clothing and all of the brand’s collaborations. This will answer the question: “Where do I go to get the good stuff?,” Sey added.

The mix also includes a selection of “hyperlocal” merchandise that is exclusive to the store, such as New York-themed T-shirts and hoodies as well as pieces that use the company’s proprietary Project F.L.X. laser technology that was introduced earlier this year.

On the main floor, shoppers will find a callout of the brand’s new Fresh Leaves collaboration with Justin Timberlake, as well as a section of Mickey Mouse-themed product, some of it exclusive to the store. There is a section devoted to men’s trucker jackets and complementary items on the right of the main entrance as well.

In the rear is the tailor shop. At nearly 500 square feet, it is the largest customization site in the world and will employ 10 tailors and have two direct-to-garment printers for custom T-shirts and other pieces. The shop has 10 iPads equipped with preloaded photos, images, logos and text designed by local New York artists. For the opening, the graphics will include works from four New York-based artists: Graffiti artist Futura, urban photographer 13thwitness, graphic designer Happy Noise and visual artist Cey Adams.

Down the road, Sey said, the customization options will be enhanced to allow customers to work directly with tailors to create their own graphics.

“We see this as the heartbeat of the store,” she said.

Other product categories on the main floor include kids, which Sey said is not offered at every store, as well as the largest accessories selection and more mannequins than any other unit.

“The main floor is not jeans-focused,” Sey said. “There’s more small, medium and large pieces and more grab-and-go items.”

But moving below the main floor through a small sitting area with couches where customers can rest and browse the Internet using the store’s free Wi-Fi, the focus is most definitely on jeans. From the sitting area, customers can take in what Sey described as the “ode to the 501 moment.” A large assortment of the brand’s signature model for men and women is augmented by a timeline of the model, which dates to 1873.

The Justin Timberlake collaboration product that was teased on the main floor is housed here and there’s a selection of the one-of-a-kind Authorized Vintage pieces. “This is for the real collector,” she said.

But the primary focus on the floor is jeans: men’s on one side, women’s on the other, merchandised by fit such as super skinny, skinny, high-rise, etc. Tops, which Sey said is one of the fastest growing categories for the company, are offered alongside the jeans. In fact, she said tops have experienced high-double-digit growth for the past four or five years with variations of the brand’s batwing logo and iterations of its Levi’s Sportswear logo created for the 1984 Olympics among the most popular.

The fitting rooms are also elevated. There are a total of 18 and each one is named for a different New York neighborhood such as TriBeCa. Custom artwork from Cey Adams decorates the stalls, which feature call buttons for associates to bring different sizes to shoppers.

There are immersive screens throughout the store and large graphics intended to draw shoppers in. The lower level includes the only cash wrap station. But there are more than 10 mobile point-of-sale locations throughout the store to assist in purchasing.

Another first is that the store will host Extra! TV for a yearlong in-store residency with weekly celebrity and pop culture newscasts broadcast from the location.

Although Levi’s is based in San Francisco, where it also operates a large flagship, Sey said the company still opted to open its largest store in New York. “It’s the capital of the world,” she said. “Both Levi’s and Times Square are cultural institutions, replete with history and stature, so the brand and location pairing makes perfect sense. Our direct-to-consumer and global marketplace strategy continues to pay off as we continue to invest in truly unique consumer experiences that emphasize customization, denim leadership originality and the authenticity that only Levi’s can claim.”

Eventually, the company would like to open similar flagships in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Shanghai and other large markets around the world, she said.

All told, Levi’s operates nearly 3,000 owned and franchised stores across the globe, which include 29 mainline stores in the U.S. as well as 100-plus outlets, another growth vehicle for the company.

Retail and e-commerce, which was recently integrated within the corporation, grew by 12 percent last year — its 11th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth — and now accounts for around 30 percent of the brand’s overall business. Sey said the plan is to increase that number to 50 percent over the next few years.

“Over the last three to four years, we’ve been building a foundation for both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce,” said Marc Rosen, executive vice president and president of the direct-to-consumer business for Levi’s. “The consumer expects an integrated, seamless experience.”

He said the “big advantage” of direct-to-consumer is the ability to have a “direct relationship with the consumer.”

Rosen said Levi’s knows full well the onslaught of messaging most consumers receive today and the company’s goal is to continue to gather data to make Levi’s more relevant. That often centers around fit, which is the hardest thing for most potential shoppers to figure out. So the brand is doubling down, both in stores and online, to help people find the most appropriate models for their body type. That centers around signage and fit specialists within the brick-and-mortar locations and virtual stylists online.

“We are the denim leader and it’s our job to simplify the process for the consumer,” Rosen said.

Levi’s also realizes traditional retail is under siege as online shopping continues to soar, but believes brick-and-mortar can still play an important role.

“Retail is still relevant, but you have to create unique experiences,” Sey said.

Levi’s operates five other full-price stores in New York City: Brooklyn, and the SoHo, 14th Street, Meatpacking and 34th Street locations in Manhattan.

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