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Etienne Aigner: Invigorating a Classic

For more than 50 years Edison, New Jersey-based Etienne Aigner has provided the women of America with fashionable, high quality - and high priced - shoes, handbags and leather accessories. For the middle aged career woman, Etienne shoes reflected one's sense of style, while just owning a belt with the familiar horseshoe logo was once a high school girl's dream.

When he founded the company in 1950, Belgian immigrant Etienne Aigner worked out of his apartment making equestrian-inspired belts.

Today, the company is embarking on an ambitious expansion of its own chain of outlet stores, while also bringing on-line a host of new full-price stores. Customers who venture outside of the department stores where these high-end goods have traditionally been found are treated to a rich new look in a series of concept stores.

"Our product line is made up of traditional classics," explains Alice Paparatto, president of Etienne's Retail Division. "That has been our niche. In the last year or so we have really updated our product tremendously and we felt the time was right to update our image at retail as well."

She says that the new look involves "taking our traditional concept in stores, which was very traditional, sort of a cherry wood, sort of equestrian look and moving that forward. We lightened up and modernized the concept."

The new stores - the first of which opened this year at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth, New Jersey - incorporate a stone facade with elements of etched glass and brushed aluminum. The familiar, signature wine colored leather that was used as a primary element in their design has been reduced to a mere accent.

The Etienne line has long appealed to the 30- to 50-year-old, career-minded professional woman and even the stay-at-home moms with a sense of traditional style.

"I think the consumer is looking for something different," muses Paparatto. "The consumer is looking for newness, color, novelty, and fashion. We are definitely in a fashion cycle. The consumers are very brand oriented and very loyal to certain brands, but they respond to newness as well."

Company officials say business is good and that has prompted an ambitious expansion of their own stores - which currently number 66 units in 29 states - including a number of new "full-price" retail units. This year they plan to open 11 new stores, including four full-price units in regional malls. In 2001 a projected five to 10 full-price and another eight outlet stores are expected to come on line.

"We have a huge opportunity in full-price," says Paparatto. "We've been running double-digit increases in our full-price store for the past three years - very strong double-digit increases."

In explaining the sudden increase in full-price stores, she noted that Etienne is "a retail business within a wholesale company. So I think we will look at how we are marketing ourselves, but basically the full-price retail stores represent the full breadth of products for the consumer that no department store would ever carry. We are able in full-price to really convey the true brand image to the consumer."

Contact: Alice Paparatto, Etienne Aigner, 47 Brunswick Avenue, Edison, NJ; (212) 246-8660.

Best Buy specializes in consumer electronics, personal computers, entertainment software and appliances. However, this "know-it-all" company actually didn't know everything in the beginning. Founded in 1966 by Richard M. Schulze, Best Buy was actually born as Sound of Music, an audio component systems retailer. In later years it expanded, offering video products and appliances, and donned the name Best Buy in 1983.

In the next couple of years, it became a public corporation. New stores continue to bloom reflecting Best Buys' ongoing expansion. In addition to the 362 stores currently spanning 42 states, Best Buy will be entering New York, covering most major markets in the country, says Stelter. The company's goal is to own 650 stores by 2004.

Best Buy's success has been apparent in its numbers. Within the last decade, Best Buy's annual revenue grew exceeding $12.5 billion. The company's key to success can be attributed to several factors, says Best Buy PR specialist Stelter. "Grab and go" is just one of the company's noteworthy concepts. Most merchandise is stocked generously on the floor, so if a customer sees something he likes, they just grab it and go. Believing its most important asset is its employees, Best Buy trusts the non-commissioned sales force to add to the hassle-free experience.

In addition to customer service, store interiors are customer-friendly. These spacious sites exhibit tall ceilings, broad aisles and a wide-open feel. Although 45,000 sq. ft. is slightly larger than an average home, Best Buy sets up its 'rooms' to flow as they would in its customer's abode. For example, software accessories are next to the computers, located near the office furniture, etc. Each store is designed with accessibility and simplicity in mind. With this root concept, each store is designed in the same fashion. If you go into an Atlanta store, the furniture will also be near the computers as it is at the Dallas locale.

The typical Best Buy customer is young, with 68% ages 15 to 39 years, and mostly male, says Stelter. One half of Best Buy shoppers have kids at home, and 51% earn annual incomes ranging from $40,000 to $100,000. The retailer is currently seeking high-traffic power centers for its new locations.

Contact: Pat Matre, VP Real Estate, P.O. Box 9312, Minneapolis, MN 55440: (612) 947-2000.

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