Chinese Laundry Preps for Growth

LOS ANGELES — Despite the challenging economy, Chinese Laundry CEO Bob Goldman is moving ahead with an aggressive growth push.

Among the key elements are the rollout of a lifestyle marketing initiative, a diversified product offering, a new retail division and several key personnel appointments.

“This is a change period,” Goldman said. “While other people are backing away, it’s a good time for us to move forward. I’m looking to maintain the kind of growth we’ve been having in the low double digits in the existing business. Growth will also come from the new businesses.”

Goldman’s chief objective is to evolve the Chinese Laundry brand into a lifestyle business and diversify the product offering. “You can’t stay where you were in this business,” he said. “You have to attract a new customer, and that’s what we’re doing.”

To get the lifestyle message out, the company plans to debut new print ads featuring a head-to-toe product offering of denim, apparel and accessories in the September issues of InStyle and Lucky magazines.

Goldman said new footwear initiatives were also in the offing. For starters, the product line is being expanded to include fashion athletic, as well as more upscale styling and materials, which Goldman said would naturally appeal to a slightly older consumer — widening the brand’s reach to women from 18 to 30 years old.

To make sure the brand doesn’t lose its grasp on younger consumers, the company is planning to launch Dirty Laundry, a subbrand aimed at the juniors’ market, which will debut in February 2009.

As previously reported in Footwear News, the company has also opened its first Chinese Laundry retail store in California’s San Fernando Valley. Mark Jankowski, a former Steve Madden executive, has been named as director of retail development. While Goldman said he didn’t have specific growth objectives for the retail division, new stores are expected to follow. “We’ll be looking at wherever there is a good opportunity,” he said. “The real estate market is starting to create opportunities, so we’ll see.”

Goldman said the company-owned stores would be essential as a marketing tool to showcase the Chinese Laundry label across product categories, and they will also generate profit. “I don’t think you can run any business that doesn’t generate a profit,” he said.

Goldman said that as the brand has grown, so too has his management team, and he recently named Patti Lauria, a former Steve Madden VP of in-store development, as national sales manager for Chinese Laundry.

To capitalize on the company’s extensive sourcing network, Goldman said Linda Leveen, former director of women’s footwear at Sears, had been named director of design for private label and would oversee the company’s private-label operations. “Our international business is growing in the 20 to 30 percent area for private label,” he said. “Customer-specific product is definitely an area of growth. From our manufacturing base, we have the ability to do things all over the globe.”

Separately, New York Transit executive Alan Rapoport has also joined the company as president of the A’mano division and will spearhead the relaunch of the A’mano brand for fall ’09. “A’mano was a very popular brand in the 1950s to 1990s,” said Goldman. “We’re relaunching it because we see the need for $100 to $300 shoes.”

A’mano, which was acquired by Chinese Laundry in 1991, had been produced in the U.S. until 1995, when the company decided to stop manufacturing due to sourcing shifts away from the American market.

Looking ahead, the CEO said companies that innovate in a difficult climate will succeed in tough times. “The American market is offering a lot of opportunity right now because change means opportunity,” he said. “If the market needs something, we will be there.”

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