Jones Looking to Accelerate Footwear Growth

NEW YORK — It’s a mixed bag at The Jones Group Inc.

CEO Wesley Card sounded upbeat about the back half despite the firm reporting a first-quarter loss last week, but revenue remained impacted by the highly promotional landscape.

Citing footwear’s continued strength amid a challenging environment in Europe and domestically, Card told Footwear News, “I’m optimistic about the way the consumer spent in the first quarter. It was an excellent response to color, newness and fresh product. It’ll be very interesting to see how they continue to spend for the rest of the year, given the economy slowly improving. But it’s important to be cautious as well because of mixed signals: Consumer confidence keeps going up and down and there are pressures from gas prices.”

With revenue contributions from Kurt Geiger and Stuart Weitzman each set to advance 1 percentage point this year, Jones is set to ramp up retail for those brands.

Next month, Kurt Geiger will mark its foray into the U.S. market via the launch of a country-specific website. And this summer, the brand’s first brick-and-mortar location will bow in San Francisco, with three more stores slated to launch stateside over the next 18 months.

“The San Francisco store was a former Nine West store that was due for a major remodel. It’s a fantastic location on Union Square, but the price points of Nine West don’t work well with the cost of operating that store. Kurt Geiger, as a higher-price-point brand, will [do well],” Card said. “We’re also actively looking for a spot in New York — maybe a spot on Madison Avenue, the Upper East Side or in Soho, all the trendy areas — as well as in Los Angeles.”

Meanwhile, Stuart Weitzman plans to bow 34 international doors over the next 18 months, including four stores in China; two in the Middle East; a flagship in Melbourne, Australia; a flagship in Milan; and 12 stores across the U.S.

Card also lauded Kurt Geiger’s role in bringing Nine West to Europe. “Nine West [is] really up significantly in terms of penetration in Europe. … So Kurt Geiger is going to be an important part of our future.”

Card noted that, overall, Nine West had a strong 2011, and the momentum is continuing this year.

“The products are improving, the handbags have recovered and are starting to show growth. The jewelry line is doing well,” he said. “If you look in our stores, you’ll see much better assortments, getting better each season.”

Jones lost $1 million, or 1 cent a share, for the first quarter ended March 31, against income of $24.9 million, or 30 cents, a year earlier. Impacting the bottom line were charges for store closures, severance and related restructuring costs. The firm plans to close about 100 stores in 2012.

Jones’ guidance for full-year revenue is between $3.8 billion and $3.93 billion. The firm ended the quarter with $147.1 million in cash, down from $306.5 million a year ago.

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