Swedish retailer H&M plans 2 stores for Central Florida
Orlando's fashion scene will get a little more hip this fall, when Hennes & Mauritz -- more commonly known as H&M- opens its first Florida stores here.
As part of a 225-store international expansion this year, Central Florida will get a double dose of the Swedish clothing retailer that sells trendy, inexpensive fashions.
H&M first said it would open in Florida Mall, then last week announced a second location for Sanford's Seminole Towne Center. Florida Mall officials said their H&M should open in late October or early November. Seminole Towne Center's target opening date is Nov. 1.
"I couldn't be more excited," said Anna Powers, a 30-year-old Orlando resident who blogs about shopping and fashion. "It is going to inject more of that kind of New York, urban city vibe we lack a bit."
H&M has a huge and loyal following throughout the country. Founded in Sweden more than 60 years ago, H&M first opened stores in the United States in 2000 and now has 169 stores here. H&M has 1,700 stores in 33 countries around the world. Last month, it opened a location in Beijing.
The retailer has made a name for itself with "fast fashion" -- cheap versions of just-off-the-runway styles, many designed in-house. Stores whip customers into a buying frenzy with "capsule collections" -- limited quantities of inexpensive clothing from well-known designers such as Stella McCartney. Like new store openings, the collections generate buzz and crowds that line up outside stores hours before they open.
"I think they really understand that people who have a real urge to follow fashion often are working on beer budgets even if they have champagne appetites," said David Wolfe, creative director for The Doneger Group, a New York-based fashion consulting firm.
Wolfe said he doesn't think other stores will suffer as a result of H&M entering the market. "H&M is so unique in what they do, they don't cannibalize other people's business," he said.
The company, which recently was selling tops as low as $8 online and dresses for between $20 and $25, says it ensures low prices in several ways: efficient distribution, large volume purchases and a limited number of middlemen.
Despite its loyal shoppers, H&M has struggled along with just about everyone else in the retail industry. The company's same store sales have decreased recently. Most recently, its March same-store sales were down 3 percent.
H&M spokeswoman Nicole Christie said in an e-mail H&M's business model "helps us to stay balanced even during economic downturns." She also noted some advantages to expanding during a recession, such as improved employee retention and good real-estate opportunities.
Wolfe said he thinks H&M will enter the Orlando market just at the right time, providing an option to people who "have been thinking, 'Fashion can't be a part of my life any more, it costs too much.'"
Christie described Central Florida as "a strong retail market" with many customers who have clamored for a local location.
Powers, who shopped weekly at H&M in New York City as a graduate student, said she'll probably visit the Florida Mall H&M a couple times each month.
Meanwhile, she noted that some of her friends here in Orlando -- moms in their 30s who have lived in Central Florida for years -- have yet to get hooked.
"They have no idea," Powers said. "I've tried to school them on the wonderful opportunity they have."
Sandra Pedicini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5240.