FOGAL READIES U.S. ASCENT

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Fogal of Switzerland is taking measured steps to boost its $31 million business by 15 percent this year.
The company, based in Zurich, plans to open stores in upscale shopping districts, educating shoppers about current fashion trends and maintaining solid customer service.
These moves are meant to build its U.S. volume, which now accounts for 10 percent of business, according to Erich Schreiner, director of wholesale worldwide for Fogal.
In September, the company plans to open a store in Beverly Hills; another is set to bow in October in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Fogal also is expanding its retail partnership with Neiman Marcus. In-store shops will open this fall at Neiman’s units in Honolulu and San Francisco.
“Our philosophy is to be very selective with new store locations; to have quality expansion,” he said. “If a location we want doesn’t come up, we’ll wait a year longer. We want to give it the right quality.”
Fogal is known for its variety of offerings — 130 styles available in up to 80 colors. Retail prices range from $21 for ultrasheers to $200 for cashmere-blend tights.
Given the breadth of its collection, the company insists it is essential to staff stores and in-store shops with knowledgeable sales assistants. To be profitable, a Fogal freestanding store needs about 60 customers to make purchases each day, Schreiner said. Fogal’s sheers retail for around $30.
“We live on repeat customers. Once she buys her first pair, then she finds it’s worth the price,” Schreiner said. “Between 60 percent and 65 percent of our customers are repeat customers.”
That’s why educating consumers about the benefits of its products and selling more higher-priced goods are part of Fogal’s plan for growth. In January, the company introduced its first site on the World Wide Web, which spotlights new products, fashion tips, store openings and artists who design images for Fogal’s shopping bags.
Balthasar Meier, chairman and managing director of Fogal, is an avid art collector who has incorporated that interest into his business.
Sales assistants routinely call customers two weeks after they make a purchase to see if they need any other products. Repeat customers also are informed about new styles.
“Our customers have come to expect it and like it,” he said. “If they can’t get to the store, we send it to them.”
Fogal believes in presenting consistent fixtures and displays in all its 63 company-owned stores, 17 franchised units and 27 in-store shops, Schreiner said.
Schreiner insisted Fogal has focused on service since its first U.S. store opened in 1980, and acknowledged it is especially important now. On average, European and American women purchase about 14 pairs of sheers annually, compared with 22 pairs in 1993, he said.
“The industry — especially in Europe — has problems, because consumption is going down,” he said. “We have to take business away from other companies because the market is not growing.”

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