Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Intent on becoming a retail specialty force in the U.S., LVMH launched two category-killer prototypes last month: Synchrony, for watches, and Solstice, which sells sunglasses.
While LVMH disclosed details of the Synchrony strategy last week, on Wednesday, Fred Wilson, president and chief executive officer of LVMH Specialty Retail Concepts, told WWD about the Solstice startup.
“We will be opening several Solstice stores next year,” said Wilson. “Our strategy is to open in top malls.”
LVMH, through its Selective Distribution Group, also operates Sephora, the beauty chain growing fast in the U.S.
The first Solstice store opened Nov. 10 in The Florida Mall in south Orlando, Fla., just about a week before LVMH launched Synchrony, at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif.
Wilson declined to specify next year’s rollout.
Asked about the performance of Solstice so far, Wilson said, “Early indications are very good. It is tracking above our expectations. We are very, very pleased. We are going to try this in various geographic locations to test the viability of this concept.”
“We thought there was an opportunity for a fun and interesting large classification sunglass business.”
Solstice carries strictly sunglasses, but Wilson said it was possible related products would be added. Possibilities would be sunblock and other personal care products that other divisions of LVMH sell. “The one thing about retail is that it evolves,” Wilson said. “For now, we are satisfied to test this concept as it’s been presented.”
The Solstice store has more than 1,200 sku’s and 1,300 square feet, but 1,500 square feet is the prototype for future units, Wilson said.
He described Solstice as “clean, elegant, fun, warm, easy to shop and with more help on the selling floor than a store that would carry product under glass.”
“Certainly, consumers tell us they want freedom when they shop. We are very keen about providing service, in quality and quantity. We are very well staffed,” with up to five or six sales associates, depending on the time of day, Wilson said.
Key competition includes Sunglass Hut, Lenscrafters, department stores and single-unit optical stores.
Similar to the Sephora and Synchrony formats of self-serve, about 85 percent of the products in the Solstice store is readily accessible to shoppers without assistance from the sales help.
The store has a computer kiosk system, with a touch screen, that takes the shopper’s picture and suggests sunglasses. Sunglass collections are displayed by lifestyle sections and then by brand or designer name. In the front are active and sports styles, as well as the top 10 sellers from the week before. Readers and children’s sunglasses are displayed next, followed by bridge labels and designer labels.
The active area includes Bolle, Maui Jim, Oakley, Ray Ban, Revo, Serengeti and Smith, among others. Bridge includes Tommy Hilfiger, CK, Ralph and Kenneth Cole, and the designer area features Christian Dior, Gucci and Oliver Peoples, among others. Wilson said it was possible some private label merchandise would be included in the future.
“We’ve trained all of our folks on how to fit glasses and help consumers know how to be comfortable with what they buy.”
Prices range from $35 for Ray Ban sunglasses to $350 for Oliver Peoples sunglasses.

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