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Swoozie's Envisions a Bright Future

Swoozie's: Call it a Hip Hallmark. From the tangerine and fuschia décor to the whimsical selection of cards and gifts (Hawaiian-themed party wares, for example), Swoozie's aims to attract the coolest of affluent shoppers.

Founded two years ago by former Neiman Marcus president David Dworkin and his partner Kelly Plank, a former Rich's department store executive, Swoozie's has grown from one store in the trendy Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead to six stores with about $10 million in annual sales. In November it opened its first mall store, at Richard E. Jacobs Group Inc.'s Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, N.C. The other stores are in lifestyle and community centers.

The privately held company is now looking to expand nationally, with an unspecified capital infusion from BEV Capital, a Stamford, Conn.-based investment firm.

Next to open are stores in Birmingham, Ala., Jacksonville, Miss. and Memphis. Dworkin and Plank are scouting sites in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Dallas and Las Vegas. They say Swoozie's expects to concentrate on Southern California, Dallas, Houston and Chicago for the near term.

“We want to be careful about where we put our stores and how we build our brand,” says Dworkin, a 36-year retailing veteran who began his career at Abraham & Strauss in the late 1960s. He spent six years as a Saks Fifth Avenue executive, and was president of Neiman Marcus in the 1980s before heading Bonwit Teller. He moved to Atlanta in the 1990s as president of the now defunct Uptons, a discounter. “I didn't want to sign any kind of a deal which obligated me to go into every shopping center of the developer's.”

Still, the retail chain is asking developers to form joint ventures to help incubate growth. The Jacobs Group, for one, has partnered with Swoozie's, details of which weren't disclosed.

Bill Brown, a partner in Georgia-based Forum Development Group, said his firm is talking to Swoozie's about undisclosed sites in the Southeast. Swoozie's operates in the Forum Peachtree Parkway in Norcross, Ga.

“They do quite well in the Forum,” Brown said. “It [through its executives] has a long history in retail experience, even though technically it's a new retailer.”

The colorful stores, averaging 4,500 square feet, offer an ever-changing selection of themed products so shoppers can return frequently for fresh offerings. “There will be no reorders,” says Dworkin.

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