Zara owner aims for 4,000 new stores in Gap contest challenge

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The Independent Online

The Spanish group behind Zara has set its sights on overtaking the US giant Gap by embarking on an ambitious expansion push that will see it open one new store each day this year.

The Spanish group behind Zara has set its sights on overtaking the US giant Gap by embarking on an ambitious expansion push that will see it open one new store each day this year.

Inditex, Europe's fastest-growing clothing retailer, is targeting 4,000 stores by the end of 2009, which would mean increasing the size of its estate by 75 per cent. It has already signed contracts for two-thirds of the 360 new stores it hopes to open this year. Gap, which had just under 3,000 sites open at the end of January, is expanding at a more leisurely 2 per cent a year - around 60 stores.

Zara, Inditex's flagship fashion brand, will lead the charge for new space in Europe with up to 110 new stores planned. Four out of every five new Zara stores opened will be outside Spain, with the focus on France, Italy, Germany and the UK, where there are 33 Zara stores to almost 250 in Spain.

In the UK, Inditex recently switched the spotlight to Bershka, the teenage sister to Zara, by opening a flagship store on London's Oxford Street. Bershka, which made its UK debut late last year in Newcastle's Metro Centre, will vie with Top Shop, New Look and H&M to woo the fickle teenage market. Up to three more Bershka stores are expected to open this year in London alone.

Inditex set out its expansion programme as it unveiled plans to shake up its board ahead of appointing a chief executive to replace José María Castellano who is stepping down this year to become deputy chairman.

The Spanish group, which has doubled in size since floating in May 2001, stunned analysts with a sharp rise in net profit. It reported a 41 per cent increase in net profit to €628m (£430m) last year and said its gross margin had strengthened to a record 53.5 per cent of sales.

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