C. Wonder Expanding Into the Middle East

C. Wonder Expanding Into the Middle East

Christopher Burch's C. Wonder is going global. Just two years into the life brand concept, Burch has signed a licensing agreement Al Tayer to open stores in the Middle East.

"We have a five-year plan," Burch told WWD of international expansion. "The goal is to have 250 to 300 stores in 50 countries in five years."

C. Wonder will open five stores in the Middle East, in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar during the first quarter of 2014. The first C. Wonder unit is set for Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates in early spring.

Khalid Al Tayer, CEO of the Al Tayer Group, said, "There's a level of energy and animation in the store that comes out of all the elements of C. Wonder - the store design, product creativity and assortment. There's such a great product price range. It's very appealing. We have a very young customer in the Gulf. This resonates very well with them."

Al Tayer expects there to be an opportunity for "north of 20 stores in the region." He also said that C. Wonder will open a shop-in-shop at the Al Tayer-operated Bloomingdale's in Dubai.

Vince Montemarano, senior vice president of international at C. Wonder, said, "It takes a long time to build a brand. I've never seen a brand develop so quickly."

Burch plans to use different business models for his stores around the world. "Stores in the U.K. and Western Europe will be self-owned," he said. "The Middle East, Latin America and Asia will be franchised. We plan to sign three to four new [franchise] partners a year."

Montemarano said they plan to enter Europe in 2017 or 2018. Burch added, "In Japan, Korea, Mexico and Australia, the main opportunity is shops-in-shop."

"We're talking in Asia," Montemarano said, referring to potential partners. "We'll probably move fast in Southeast Asia, in Hong Kong and China."

Burch said products sold overseas will be "very similar to those available in the U.S. We can edit the best of the best." But, he added, "We always like to personalize and customize for each territory. We're very appealing across many areas. Color, novelty, Uniqueness and personalization are very appealing globally. In the international world, there's a need to fill the white spaces. Color resonates very well."

"I think international will be bigger than expected," Burch added. Still, C. Wonder has considerable growth left on the domestic front. "We're trying to max out at a certain number [in the U.S.] - 125, but we may end up with 200 stores. We realized how important it is to open in small towns. There are certain cities where we may never open stores. All the Southern states deserve stores, but some cities in the Midwest won't be appropriate," Burch said, noting that C. Wonder is looking for flagships in Los Angeles and Chicago. "We like small and big markets," he said, citing Nantucket and Southampton, N.Y., as examples of the former, where "business is quite good. We're looking at shops-in-shop. The retailer has to buy into our total concept."