Airports are the next frontier for M. Fredric.
The retailer, headquartered in Agoura Hills, Calif., will see the opening of its first airport store at Los Angeles International Airport in December. That will be followed by a store in Houston, with the plan to open a minimum of four airport locations annually moving forward.
“Right now we’re local,” said cofounder and co-owner Fred Levine. “Everyone in the L.A. area and the San Fernando Valley, they know M. Fredric, but Newark and Minneapolis and even in Houston, they don’t know M. Fredric. So it’s going to take some time to develop that brand name.”
LAX will be small, relative to the nine company-owned stores currently open. The airport shop will total about 200 square feet and much like other airport retail concepts is focused on grab-and-go options. It will be women’s product only, filled with mostly one-size-fits-all items or pieces with more generous silhouettes.
Levine serves as consultant and buyer to the airport stores, which are owned by World Duty Free Group. M. Fredric receives a royalty for licensing its name out and the exposure to a broader customer base.
Negotiations are now underway for airport locations in Newark and Indianapolis, and World Duty is exploring opportunity for the brand internationally at airports in Spain or France, according to Levine.
It’s a major step for M. Fredric, which has remained a regional chain during its 35 years in business, with a focus on growing in outlying markets where there isn’t a glut of retail.
“There are so many stores that do a great job in servicing the apparel needs of the west L.A. consumer that it would be unnecessary,” Levine said of growth in primary markets. “There’s more than is necessary. Where stores are necessary, besides the airports, are the areas that we like to open up and become real important for. Places like Valencia, like Oxnard, like Ventura…areas like those where we can really make a difference and be important and bring brands to those areas….It’s hard to feel important in Santa Monica when there’s hundreds of great boutiques.”
The privately held company, which employs about 80, doesn’t disclose sales and Levine, who originally worked as an attorney before entering the retail business, said revenue growth is likely as more units open, but doesn’t anticipate significant growth outside of that.
The airport opportunity fulfills a goal of building a national presence, which the company hoped to do when it originally sought private equity funding years ago. No deals ultimately came to fruition, and so the company decided to keep it small.
“Without private equity we wouldn’t expand outside of California,” Levine said. “It’s just too much for us to take on. We’re very happy where we are strategically right now on the turning point of this airport expansion.”
The airport locations, while small, will reflect a new store design that was rolled out in the spring at the company’s 5,000-square-foot Westlake Plaza store in Westlake Village, Calif. The design brought in light-colored wood flooring, white walls and an open floor plan. The Westlake Plaza opening was followed up last month with a 2,500-square-foot children’s location next to it.
The next company-owned store is slated to open Sept. 17 at the Village at Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park, Calif. The store will total 3,600 square feet and will mirror the new design concept.
Remodels to existing stores with the new design are also planned over the next two years, but the main focus will remain on the airports, Levine said.
“We’ll have to do [the airports] and see how that translates,” he said. “It could be the best thing ever because it’s bringing California to people and California’s a magic word throughout the world. So if we can represent that well in apparel, then it really could be amazing.”