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Celebrating Island Living

Amid a busy and hectic world, sun and surf can sound quite appealing. At least it did for the founders of Tommy Bahama, who escaped into their own tropical environment with the philosophy that life is one long weekend.

"Tommy Bahama has been a developing fantasy that we had about a way to lead your life in the industry we were in," says Tony Margolis, president and partner of the company, referring to the island-living experience Tommy Bahama captures. A brainchild of three apparel industry veterans, each of whom live in a different city (New York, Minneapolis and Seattle), the lifestyle concept not only involves a clothing collection but also evokes the laid-back feeling of a trip to the beach.

Tommy Bahama started as a wholesale apparel company in 1992 featuring upscale, casual men's sportswear that utilizes such fabrics as linen and silk alongside twill, canvas and cotton. The idea to develop a retail store and image suitable for the company began in 1995.

"As part of our need to get our [vendors] to understand what the Tommy Bahama attitude was, we decided to build a store that sort of set the standard for them," he says. "They could physically go see it, and that message would be delivered.

"[Our plan] was not necessarily about trying to become a successful retailer," Margolis continues. The partners saw their concept as a boutique-type apparel resource that spoke to a narrow voice in the market. Consequently, they expected the company to be small.

But people were much more receptive to the idea. "It touched a nerve," he says. The concept continued to evolve, expanding into women's apparel, housewares and food services.

The company's typical customer is age 35 to 65, Margolis says, adding, "We are targeted at the upscale end of the market."

The first Tommy Bahama location opened in February 1996 in Naples, Fla., and there is one other location in Sarasota, Fla. Both feature a casual sportwear, footwear and accessories collection for men and women as well as home furnishings. A tropical cafe sells Tommy Bahama's own Bungalow Brew and Bungalow Blonde beer.

The company calls its locations retail compounds in order to have the flexibility to expand the concept under the same island-living theme. "We are trying to touch all of the things that are part of that world," Margolis says. The company is on the verge of launching a children's collection, and he expects that small leather goods and luggage also might be possibilities in the future.

"We are tackling [expansion opportunities] in a very conservative - let's do it if we think we can do it well - kind of approach," Margolis says. "The fantasy continues to grow and expand ... and we're kind of enjoying the trip."

But that doesn't mean the company is planning to put a Tommy Bahama store everywhere. "I don't see the concept as ever becoming a mass-America kind of distribution [vehicle]," he says. "We don't envision [a location] in every city because when that happens, [the concept] loses its luster."

Plans include the addition of two more units by the end of the year for a total of four, Margolis says, adding that Tommy Bahama will open this fall at The Gardens on El Paseo in Palm Desert, Calif. Next year, the company is looking at four to six more locations with a five-year plan of finding 35 to 50 suitable sites. The first 10 units, he says, will be in the continental United States, Hawaii and the Caribbean.

For now, the 10,000 sq. ft. to 12,000 sq. ft. "compounds" are targeted at "upscale, sun-oriented, destination resort locations," Margolis says, noting that each unit will be different and customized to the site. He excludes such places as Manhattan for now, he says, because the company is still in the process of setting its image. "We need to establish Tommy Bahama's vision in the minds of the consumer first," he explains.

In the resort locations, Margolis says, the best site for a Tommy Bahama store is a streetfront retail environment that feels eclectic. Other criteria include a level of strolling traffic and a density of retailing.

Regardless of where Tommy Bahama docks, it will be positioned to attract people who yearn for a laid-back lifestyle and an escape from their busy world.

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