Planet Blue Eyes U.S., Tokyo Expansion

Source: Women's Wear Daily (wwd.com)
By: Kari Hamanaka

March 13, 2015


LOS ANGELES – Boho retailer Planet Blue, flush with new capital, is poised for growth outside Los Angeles.

The chain, totaling six stores, mostly in Southern California, plans to open six more this year, in Houston, Dallas, Hawaii, Miami, the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta and a yet-to-be-determined Southern California location. Another eight are slotted for 2016.

“Brick-and-mortar for us is just performing,” Planet Blue chief executive officer James Williams said. “We had a record year last year, [in] all channels.”

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company’s core customers are between the ages of 24 and 35. It stocks its shelves with its in-house line, Blue Life, along with brands such as BB Dakota, Free People, For Love and Lemons, and Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent.

The chain is expected to total between 35 and 40 stores within the next five years, according to Williams.

New York, the company’s number-two market for e-commerce sales after Los Angeles, will likely see a store by the end of next year.

Plans also call for the retailer’s five Tokyo stores, operated through a venture with Tokyo Style, to grow to 12 over the next few years.

Williams declined to disclose the company’s annual revenues, but said retail net sales year-to-date for the first two months of the year are up more than 30 percent with comparable-store sales approaching 20 percent.

The company’s business units—wholesale, e-commerce and retail—each account for roughly one-third of overall revenue.

A follow-on injection of capital in November by Los Angeles investment firm Breakwater Management, a minority owner in the company, is fueling the accelerated growth strategy that includes the hiring of several key executives.

The chain’s creative director, Ling-Su Chinn, who founded the company 20 years ago, maintains a majority stake.

Breakwater brought on former Nasty Gal president and chief operating officer Deborah Benton as a partner in November and she’s now advising Planet Blue’s board. Ellen Nguyen, former creative director at The Lucky Group, joined Planet Blue this week as vice president of brand.

Other recent hires include Roger Wason, former Murad head of e-commerce, as vice president of e-commerce; vice president of retail David Lindell, a 12-year executive at Armani Exchange, and Katrina Basic, vice president of finance, who most recently worked at 5.11 Tactical.

“We’ve really tightened up our ship by bringing on David and other experts to really present our offering and our point of view, and we’ve definitely been more on point in terms of merchandising,” Williams said.

The company’s workforce of a little more than 100 in its Santa Monica headquarters continues to grow and it’s already looking for new space in anticipation of future growth, Williams said.

Stores moving forward will measure between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet with retail cotenants that include Intermix, Calypso St. Barth and Free People.

“We’re in a unique little place where we have a captive customer,” Lindell said.

And the timing is right as the retail landscape continues to shift and emphasize local and more curated offerings to consumers, he added.

“Five, six years ago it was very much mall-based,” Lindell said. “Now it’s becoming more and more of a neighborhood store. I think that’s why our brick-and-mortar is really starting to thrive because people are trying to get out of the mainstream and go with something that not everybody has.”

To learn more about Breakwater, visit www.breakwaterfunds.com or call (424) 777-4000.