Theres been discussion and confusion (me included! ) on tPF about why Mulberry bags seemed very widely available in U.S. department stores a couple of years ago, but are far more limited and difficult to find these days. These two articles I found help to explain the companys strategy In a nutshell, Mulberry apparently was testing the waters with their U.S. department store sales in 2004-2005. Now, by largely funneling sales through their own Mulberry boutiques and mulberry.com, they hope to retain the exclusivity of the brandand cut down on those huge markdowns at department-store sale time, I bet! ------------------------------------------------------- Women's Wear Daily (WWD) November 27, 2006 MULBERRY BLOOMS WITH STATESIDE STORES BYLINE: Jennifer Hirshlag NEW YORK - Mulberry has branched out, opening its first U.S. boutique in Manhattan, and more are on the way. The British luxury leather goods firm, with a track record of producing must-have bags and for accessorizing style icons like Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and Scarlett Johansson, has opened at 387 Bleecker Street. More stores are expected to follow next month, including a flagship at 605 Madison Avenue, and units in the Americana mall in Manhasset, N.Y., and on Melrose Place in Los Angeles. A fifth location, at the Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City, is expected in February. "Over the 35 years that we have been in business, this has been a very U.K.-focused brand, and now we are opening it up internationally," said Lisa Montague, chief executive officer. "The U.S. represents a huge opportunity within that international expansion because the demand for luxury goods here is significant. If we get it right and appeal to our consumer base, it could give us a fantastic opportunity to increase our business overall." Mulberry, which was founded in England in 1971 by accessories buyer Roger Saul, has had an extensive rebranding effort under way since 2000. That's when Singapore fashion and hotel entrepreneurs Christina Ong and husband Ong Beng Seng invested $14.5 million in the company. In 2002, Saul sold his stake in the firm. Two years later, Mulberry hired design director Stuart Vevers, who worked closely with Mark Jacobs when Vevers was a design consultant for LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Also during that time, Mulberry began its retail rollout, adding five new stores in the U.K. to its 10 boutiques in cities such as London and Paris, and in the Netherlands. Retail expansion into Hong Kong, Japan and northern European countries followed. In the last 12 months, Mulberry has opened five standalone stores, including locations in Terminal 4 at London's Heathrow airport and in Edinburgh, as well as in Norway, Thailand and Taiwan, bringing Mulberry's total number of doors to 24 worldwide. Mulberry began targeting U.S. business two years ago through wholesale distribution. It launched its first collection of bags here in Bergdorf Goodman, and also distributed its assortment in Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. At the time, Montague told WWD that she estimated first-year sales here at $1 million, but had hopes to boost that to $50 million in the next five years. Montague declined to give updated sales projections, but said she would like to see the U.S. market generate 30 percent of Mulberry's business in the future, and business from Europe and Asia split the other two-thirds. Mulberry now generates 90 percent of its business in the U.K. and northern Europe. "We wanted to test the U.S. market through wholesale before opening up retail locations here because it is such an important market," Montague said. "Fortunately, we had great success and it's given us the confidence to move ahead. I think it will be a great balance to have our department and retail store business here. The customer wants a personal relationship with the brand, which is difficult to achieve in a department store. It will also give us the opportunity to offer the whole brand experience, which may include bringing our apparel to the States." Montague said the new stores adhere to an interior design concept modeled on Mulberry's Bond Street location in London, but each space is created to have its own character and merchandised with a mix suited to its environment. "The Bleecker Street store is very much targeted to a cool downtown girl - it's very Kate Moss," she said. "But with Madison Avenue, we need to consider different customer groups. All the stores will still have the Mulberry brand aesthetic, but we recognize that there are unique needs in different markets." The Bleecker Street space, which Montague calls a jewel-box location at 530 square feet, is retailing women's and men's merchandise, including handbags, luggage, small leather goods, gloves, scarves and items like notebooks and organizers. Prices range between $59 and $2,995, and bespoke items top out at $9,000. The new Madison Avenue store is expected to be 3,000 square feet. To celebrate both New York openings, Mulberry is throwing a party on Wednesday at 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking District.