LA SENZA LINGERIE CHAIN STRETCHES FROM CANADA TO U.K. WITH SIX STORES

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — La Senza, a 107-store Canadian lingerie chain, has moved into the U.K. and plans to have six stores in shopping malls by the end of November.
Stores have already opened in Thurrock, Bromley and Watford. The others will be in Sheffield, Manchester and Kingston, said Lawrence Lewin, La Senza’s president. The units average about 2,000 square feet.
The stores carry the same merchandise mix as La Senza’s Canadian units, which average about 2,800 square feet. About 90 percent of the merchandise is women’s lingerie, most of it bearing La Senza’s own label.
The company also carries such well-known brands as Playtex and Gossard. Prices are about $26 (16 pounds) at current exchange rates for a silk chemise; $32 (20 pounds) for a baby-doll slip, and $40 (25 pounds) for a velvet teddy.
In addition to women’s lingerie, the stores carry men’s underwear and a small selection of toiletries and gifts.
La Senza, based in Dorval, Quebec, examined the U.K. market for a year before deciding to open its own stores, said Lewin, who was born in Britain.
“This is a tight little country of 60 million people compared to Canada’s 26 million,” he explained. “There also is a very, very large lingerie market that is dominated by Marks & Spencer with a 40 percent share. There are no real specialty chains, and we saw a gap in the market.”
The chain’s price points will compete directly with Marks & Spencer and such department store groups as BHS, but Lewin asserted his stores will offer better service and quality.
La Senza has no specific plans for expansion at this stage beyond the initial six stores.
Lewin said the group will decide in early January 1995 whether to open more stores in the U.K. based on the performance of the first six units.
“We have a list of at least 65 shopping centers in the U.K. that we could go into if the six stores perform well,” he said.
He declined to reveal sales targets for the first stores. The group believes the U.K. stores offer the potential to enter the market in Continental Europe, but not for the foreseeable future. There are more specialty lingerie stores on the Continent, Lewin said, but no mass-market chains like La Senza.
“We don’t have a master plan to conquer Europe — yet,” he said. “But that is part of our goal.”
Apparently, though, La Senza can move fast when it wants to. The first La Senza store opened in Canada only four years ago — in September 1990.
There is the potential for up to 175 La Senza stores in Canada, according to Lewin. There are no plans to expand the chain into the U.S., however, because of the strength there of specialty retailers, he said, specifically citing Victoria’s Secret.
The chain is part of Suzy Shier Ltd., which is a retailer of moderate- price women’s wear under the Suzy Shier and L.A. Express names. The group has more than 300 stores throughout Canada in all three of its formats. It had net earnings of $6.6 million ($9.03 million Canadian) at current exchange on sales of $153.3 million ($208.35 million Canadian) in the year ended Jan. 29.

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