PARIS — It’s not often a French retailer gets to pick up an award in the United States.
The National Retail Federation’s decision to honor Philippe Houzé, executive chairman of Galeries Lafayette Group, as International Retailer of the Year at its Big Show today is a testament of the French department store group’s growing international ambitions, with expansion including plans for a second store in China.
Shortly before leaving for New York, Houzé detailed some of Galeries Lafayette’s projects as it battles a morose economic climate in France. They center around four themes: reinventing the department store; developing new formats; omnichannel retailing, and international expansion.
By 2017, Galeries Lafayette will count eight department stores abroad. The existing locations in Berlin; Dubai; Jakarta, Indonesia; Casablanca, Morocco, and Beijing will be joined by Istanbul at the end of 2015; Doha, Qatar, in 2016, and Milan in 2017, with more developments in other capital cities likely to follow.
Houzé said the Beijing store, opened in October 2013, had a strong start and Galeries Lafayette was actively seeking the location of its second store in China, though it would be at least 18 months before it was ready.
“Over the last few years, we have entered a phase geared toward giving our Galeries Lafayette brand an international dimension, which is not necessarily a natural move for a French company like ours,” he said, adding that foreign customers — including tourists visiting France — now account for 20 percent of turnover.
However, the United States remains one market Houzé is not raring to tackle, following a failed experiment in New York in the Nineties.
“Our presence was short-lived. You can’t underestimate the responsiveness of our U.S. colleagues and competitors. They are very agile, reactive, enterprising firms and there are not many examples today of large international retailers succeeding in the United States,” he said.
In France, Galeries Lafayette is gearing up for the 2018 opening of an 86,000-square-foot flagship on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, which will be its second flagship in the French capital after the historic store on Boulevard Haussmann.
“We will have to come up with something very different from Boulevard Haussmann and what is being done today, so that is a new challenge for us,” he said.
In addition, Galeries Lafayette plans to open more outlet stores this year following the success of its first unit at One Nation near Paris, which bowed in September.
“There will be quite a strong acceleration on our part in this segment,” said Houzé, adding that outlet departments could be incorporated into some of the retailer’s regional department stores.
The executive also wants to develop more specialized ready-to-wear stores. “I am very interested namely in what Holt Renfrew has done in Toronto with their men’s store,” he noted.
However, Houzé said Galeries Lafayette had dropped its earlier plans to acquire mid- to high-end brands in rtw and accessories.
“Brands, concepts, formats have increasingly quick life cycles and the obsolescence of these brands is going to be increasingly rapid,” he said, noting that Motier, the holding company of the family that owns Galeries Lafayette Group, last year bought a 6.1 percent stake in Carrefour, mopping up most of its available cash.