Friday, May 12, 2006

H&M brings its stylish affordability to Sunvalley

The Swedish retailer of clothing and accessories opens its first East Bay store today in Concord
By Blanca Torres
Sunvalley mall's hip factor is getting a boost today as H&M, a Swedish retailer with a cultlike following for its fast and inexpensive fashion, opens its first East Bay store.
The Concord shopping center, already a Mecca for teenagers and suburbanites, is home to H&M's third store on the West Coast following the opening of two locations in San Francisco in December.
"I've been to one in the city," said Jessica Bizzell, 22, of Antioch, who peered into the H&M store in Sunvalley on Thursday. "I like the style of clothing. It's more Euro-looking."
The 10,000-square-foot store is H&M's first mall outlet in the East Bay and will feature clothing and accessories for women and juniors. The retailer plans to open a larger store in Walnut Creek on June 30. That store also will carry men's and children's clothing.
The company is aggressively looking to expand on the West Coast. It says it plans to open stores in Southern California in the fall.
Company spokeswoman Lisa Sandberg said its expansion is based on where their real estate team can find available spaces in appealing cities.
"We always knew we wanted to branch out," she said. "We thought that going to the East Bay would be a logical area."
The Sunvalley location is H&M's 98th in the United States. The company has about 1,200 stores worldwide. It expects the United States to surpass Germany's 288 stores in the next three years to become its largest market.
"Our business model and our collection is the same globally," Sandberg said. "We tend to look at global trends and we are serving a global customer, but we do some local market research -- we want to keep in tune with the local customer."
Prices range from $5 flip-flops and $6 tank tops to $50 jeans and lined suits for less than $90.
"There's something different in the window everyday," said Nina Gruen, a retail and consumer behavior consultant with San Francisco-based Gruen+Gruen. "They train their customers that if they don't buy it right then and there and you wait a week, then you won't find it."
The formula of bringing shoppers the latest fashions at low prices works well in various markets, said Susan Nelson, executive director of strategy and insight for Landor, a San Francisco-based consulting firm.
"(H&M) doesn't rely on the hipster environment," Nelson said. "There's nothing inherently urban about it that would keep it from going into the suburban market."
Tom McCracken, general manager of Sunvalley, said he expects H&M will make the mall more of shopping destination for people from across the Bay Area.
It should also attract older shoppers to the mall, which is saturated with teen-oriented stores such as Hollister, Aeropostale, Forever 21, Buckle, Abercrombie and Fitch and Tilly's, a surf and skate store scheduled to open next week.
Florence Davies of Oakland had never heard of H&M before passing by its Sunvalley storefront Thursday, but she said she can already tell she'll be a regular.
"It's my favorite store and I haven't even been in there," the 22-year-old said Thursday. "The clothes are pretty and kind of unique. You'll probably see me back here tomorrow."

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