Tokyo might not be on the ocean, but Planet Blue is bringing the beach there.
The Malibu-born retailer is planting a 600-square-foot pop-up shop at Isetan from April 26 to May 3 and will open a permanent store in Japan by spring 2013. Planet Blue has partnered with Sanei International, which also works with Kate Spade, Jill Stuart, Diane von Furstenberg and Vivienne Tam in Japan, for its first international retail efforts.
“Isetan is one of the best known, if not the best known, department stores in Tokyo, and they take pride in launching brands in Tokyo,” said Planet Blue chief executive officer James Williams. “This one-week pop-up will be a great preview of things to come for the public, and it is going to be great exposure for us.”
Even before it decided to enter the Japanese market, Planet Blue — a staple of Southern California, where it has five stores and has been entrenched for 17 years — had a track record with Japanese shoppers. Williams and Planet Blue founder Ling-Su Chinn noted its stores are big tourist attractions for Japanese visitors to Los Angeles; it receives press requests weekly from Japanese magazines, and Japan has been the top foreign market for its e-commerce for three years.
“I speak California cool, and they are obsessed with California,” said Chinn. She went on to describe the pop-up store as bringing Malibu to Tokyo in Planet Blue’s Boho California beach chic manner. It has natural wood flooring, driftwood signage and paneling, and two walls painted in Planet Blue’s signature lime green.
At the pop-up, 30 to 40 percent of the merchandise will be from Planet Blue lines manufactured in Los Angeles, which Sanei will distribute to 30 locations throughout Japan as well. They are knit specialist Blue Life, print dress resource Tru Blue and accessory-heavy line Treasure Blue inspired by flea market finds. Planet Blue World, a line made in Japan and designed by Chinn with input from Sanei, will account for another 30 to 40 percent. The balance will be from third-party brands. Planet Blue’s goal is for Japanese retail to provide an experience similar to the Los Angeles stores.
Planet Blue is actively scouting real estate for a permanent store in Japan, but hasn’t finalized a location. Chinn estimated the store would be about 2,000 square feet and explained it would be a lifestyle destination that will go beyond apparel. “When you come in, you are going to stay there. You are going to have your smoothie, get your nails done and shop,” she said.
Williams said Planet Blue would study retail operations at its initial Japanese store for roughly a year before adding a second one in the country. However, in five years, he continued, Planet Blue could have five locations in Japan and 25 percent of top-line revenue could come from its international business. By then, the retailer could have locations elsewhere in Asia. It is considering Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Back in the U.S., Planet Blue is exploring further retail expansion and expects to open another store within 18 months. After dabbling in kids, men’s and beauty, Planet Blue is focused on its women’s concept. A kids store at the Malibu Lumber Yard closed and, in a few months, Chinn said she is converting a space that has been a beauty-oriented Planet Blue Essentials Store at the Malibu Country Mart to the core Planet Blue offering. She’s thinking of exiting men’s entirely, although Planet Blue still has a men’s location in Santa Monica. Planet Blue recently shuttered a store in The Promenade at Westlake in Westlake Village, Calif.
Although it took a hit during the recession, Williams said Planet Blue’s earnings climbed 200 percent last year from 2010. He attributed the rebound to Chinn assuming control of the buying, the growth of Planet Blue’s Blue Life and Blu Moon lines that now account for more than 20 percent of retail sales and instituting operational efficiencies. “We really came back strong last year and are trending up this year,” he said.