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Liberty aims for overseas expansion prior to stock flotation

By Vivian Hendriksz


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London - Before floating on the London Stock Exchange in 2018, London department store Liberty plans on spreading its wings into international markets overseas once more.

The department store is set to launch its home-label merchandise in department stores in the US, Italy and the Netherlands in order to increase the brand's presence. It will not be the first time that the British department store steps foot overseas - in 2007 the Liberty of London collection was available in a series of international departments stores, including Bloomingdale's in the US, before it was acquired by private equity firm BlueGem close to five years ago. Liberty is also said to be seeking a number of partnerships to help build on highly successful collaborations with the likes of Barbour, Nike and US department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue.

One of the first overseas ventures to take place will occur next month at US fashion retail chain Nordstrom. The upscale store will host a series of pop-up stores featuring Flowers of Liberty homeware in 6 stores across the country, including New York, San Francisco and Washington. The dedicated pop-up stores are part of Nordstrom's ongoing series of themed pop-ups, which first launched in October 2013. Running from July 3 until August 2, the pop-up stores aims to offer US customers a 'taste of Liberty magic.'

Liberty's overseas expansion plan to support future IPO

Olivia Kim, director of Creative Projects at Nordstrom commented: "Liberty London’s rich heritage and history as an iconic retailer makes it the perfect collaborator for Pop-In @ Nordstrom. We can't wait to share the Flowers of Liberty collection with our customers exclusively for the first time outside of the famous London store in the UK. The range of products in the collection is uniquely charming, cleverly diverse and most of all fun, making it a perfect complement to Pop-In @ Nordstrom."

The British department store is also said to be working on another deal with a second US department store, according to the Guardian. Italian department store La Rinascente in Milan will also host a pop-up shop for Liberty London this autumn, which will feature the department store's own handbag and accessories range. The British department store will also offer its accessories range in premium Dutch department store de Bijenkorf this autumn.

The new overseas venture is set to help support Liberty's owners, private equity firm BlueGem, plan to launch an IPO in 2018 and return the British department store to public ownership. BlueGem, which first took over the 140 old department store in 2010 for 32 million pounds, has spent the past five years largely investing in the department store and overhauling its overall brand image to turn the tide against years of losses. By leveraging Liberty's home-label brand, Marco Capello, head of BlueGem and Liberty, aims to transform Liberty into an internationally recognised brand.

"Everybody thought I was mad and Liberty could never be profitable. I disagreed … I sat in the cafe for three days and I saw a lot of people coming in and very few coming out with big shopping bags. I thought: ‘The merchandise is not right.’ I thought: ‘There is something we can do,’" said Capello in an interview with the Guardian. His strategy, which included cutting down on costs by reducing the number of staff and large executive office, changing merchandise and offering staff incentive based on sales performance has helped boost sales from the department's store atrium 1,500 pounds a day in 2010 to 40,000 pounds a day now. In the year to January 2014, sales hit 123 million pounds and the company aims to boost this to nearly 155 million pounds in the coming financial year.

"We think this is a fabulous business and it has got a lot more legs. It’s a rare jewel in the crown and I’d like to own it for 20 years," added Capello, as according to BlueGem's agreement with investors the department store would have been sold off last year. However, instead the firm decided to refinance the business, letting some investors take out cash but nearly all re-invest in buying the department store for 165 million pounds. "Our ultimate goal is to float the company in three years’ time and then the fund will be able to realise a substantial gain."

De Bijenkorf
La Rinascente
Liberty London
overseas expansion