Talbots plans UK expansion

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The Independent Online
TALBOTS, the classic US womenswear retailer best known for selling tan trousers, navy-blue blazers and pink pleated skirts, is poised for a sizeable expansion in Britain that could see up to 30 stores open nationwide in the next few years.

The move is part of chief executive Arnold Zetcher's ambitious strategy to double the number of outlets worldwide to 900 by the end of the decade.

Two sites are due to open soon: one in Sheffield's giant Meadowhall shopping centre in April, the other at Guildford, Surrey, the following month.

They will add to existing branches in Manchester, Brent Cross in north London and Kingston upon Thames, which compete against conventional British chains such as Viyella, Country Casuals and the more traditional end of the Marks & Spencer range.

Talbots also plans to launch a British version of its mail-order brochure in the autumn; in the US, Talbots sends out 55 million catalogues each year.

Talbots' typical customer is a professional woman in her mid-30s with a smart but safe dress sense that eschews paying fancy prices or chasing the latest fashion. "If the shoulders are out here on the runway [catwalk] we'll bring them in a little," said Mr Zetcher. "If the hemlines go high, we'll take them back below the knee."

It is a formula that has proved highly successful in the US. Publicly quoted but majority-owned by Japanese retail conglomerate Jusco, Talbots has bucked the recent sluggish trend in US consumer spending with analysts expecting net income to grow by almost a fifth on the $54.4m scored in 1994.

Mr Zetcher is confident of repeating that kind of success in the UK, even though he admits the high street retail scene here is just as depressed.

In particular, he is encouraged by results from Kingston upon Thames, Talbots' first UK store, which opened in 1994. Turnover per square foot of selling space reached pounds 460 in its first year of trading, versus an average of pounds 380 in the US.

"Considering people didn't know who we were when we opened, we're real happy with that," Mr Zetcher said. And he sees no reason why the spending habits of British women should be any different from that of their American counterparts - "The best sellers over here are the best sellers in the US."

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