NEW YORK — After opening two stores here 18 months ago, Molton Brown is embarking on a retail expansion to put 30 stores in the U.S. by 2010 — at a rate of roughly six new shops annually.
The company’s pair of New York prototypes, at Madison Avenue at 53rd Street, and at Third Avenue at 64th Street, “have exceeded expectations,” said Robert Thurlow, chief executive officer of Molton Brown USA. Thurlow, 44, noted that the Madison Avenue unit had comp-store growth of 33 percent, and the Third Avenue store had comps of 31 percent. Sources originally projected the shops would have annual sales of $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively.
“Now, we have the green light for more stores across the U.S.,” said Thurlow, adding, “Asia and the U.S. have the biggest growth potential [for Molton Brown], with the U.S. being the most important for the company.”
First on the agenda are two August openings, one in SoHo here and one in King of Russia, Pa. They will be followed by a September opening in Short Hills, N.J., and a fall 2007 opening at the planned Mall at Oyster Bay in Syosset, N.Y.
The four stores are expected to generate sales of about $1,200 to $1,400 per square foot, or nearly $5 million in sales, according to industry sources. The Spring Street location will be more than 1,000 square feet and the other three will be slightly smaller — about 850 square feet each. Future Molton Brown shops will be in the 800-to 1,000-square-foot range, according to Thurlow, who is eyeing Boston; Greenwich, Conn.; Washington; Miami; Bal Harbor, Fla.; Chicago, and San Francisco for new stores through 2008.
Molton Brown USA does about $22.5 million in annual sales, according to industry sources, a third of it generated by the boutiques. The rest comes from a U.S. wholesale business that comprises 200 doors, including Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, C.O. Bigelow, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Blue Mercury.
It’s Thurlow’s aim to have the retail and wholesale sides of the business even. The plan is to increase the U.S. business so that it’s “as large or larger than the U.K. and Europe in five years,” said Thurlow.
The U.S. retail expansion plan will follow similar strategies executed in the U.K., a market that had been focused on wholesale, but now has 36 Molton Brown stores.
The emphasis in Asia, as it was in the U.S. since the mid-Nineties, is now on the wholesale side of the business. But it’s expected Molton Brown’s Asian business also will evolve to include company-owned stores. There is one store in Singapore and “more [stores in Asia] to follow,” said Thurlow.
Molton Brown, based in London and said to generate annual revenues of $125 million globally, was acquired last July by Kao Corp., which had sales of over $3 billion in 2005. Molton Brown is part of Kao’s Prestige unit and will soon be joined in that division by Kanebo, which Kao bought earlier this year.
Molton Brown’s Madison Avenue shop here and the planned SoHo store fit into the “flagship” format of stores that carry the full Molton Brown assortment of bath and body care, skin care, color cosmetics, men’s grooming, candles, leather goods and cashmere throws. Of the 30 locations planned by 2010, as many as eight could be flagships, according to Thurlow.
The men’s side of Molton Brown’s business has grown 30 to 40 percent year-over-year, according to Thurlow. In late June, the brand will launch 10 men’s products, bringing the brand’s full men’s assortment to 16 items, including shower gel, shampoo, scrubs, sport spray and hair texturizer. Men’s accounts for about 30 percent of the brand’s sales.
With Kao’s research and development muscle behind it, Molton Brown plans to phase out in 2008 its current skin care collection for an entirely new assortment.