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Skagen Designs opening retail channels

John Seelmeyer

Skagen Designs, the Reno company that’s built a worldwide name for itself based on what it calls “everyday works of art,” wants more control over the way its sleek and modernistic pieces of art are presented.

As it marks its 20th anniversary, Skagen is making a push into company-owned retail locations around the world with locations in the United States including New York City to join stores in Denmark and Japan.

“We want to be in control of our destiny,” says Charlotte Jorst, co-founder of Skagen Designs with her husband, Henrik. “That’s the only way we can build our brand.”

The company traditionally has sold its watches, jewelry and sunglasses through department stores such as Bloomingdales and Nordstrom as well as through independent jewelers.

But it’s cautiously opening new retail channels as well.

Most surprisingly, Skagen sold 30,000 watches during a three-day event at Costco stores around the

country last year. A reprise of the campaign this year sets a target of 60,000 sales in three days.

Before they agreed to the Costco deal, the Jorsts weighed the benefits of a sales jolt against the possibility that their products’ appearance in the discount chain would hurt Skagen’s image. They decided the risks were worthwhile especially because the sale was limited to three days.

“It’s not hurting the brand,” says Charlotte Jorst. “People expect to find good products at Costco.”

Along with the opening of Skagen Stores on four continents, the company also plans to launch outlet stores in Las Vegas, California’s Napa Valley and the Denver area.

And Skagen Designs is working with some of its specialty store customers this year to create as many as 50 mini-stores devoted entirely to Skagen products. Those mini-stores inside jewelry shops and other retailers will provide Skagen with greater control over the way its products are sold, Charlotte Jorst says, and also will allow the company to test individual markets to see if stand-alone retail outlets are warranted.

The company also designs and manufactures a private-label brand of watches sold at Kohl’s Department Stores “It’s going very well, and we’re in 500 stores,” says Henrik Jorst and it does a good business developing items for the corporate gift market as well.

The push into new retail channels comes as Skagen Designs sees maturation of its U.S. markets.

The Jorsts, Danish emigrants, began designing watches at their New York home. The sleek, thin designs grew in popularity so quickly that privately held Skagen Designs has been recognized as one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States.

Skagen Designs moved to Nevada in the early 1990s, and the company moved in 2003 to its current office and distribution facility in south Reno. It employs about 100.

Along with worries about a maturing U.S. market, Henrik Jorst says he’s keeping a close eye on the financial health of European and Asian consumers.

The buying habits of international customers is particularly important because Skagen Designs sees strong growth potential in Japan, Singapore, France and other international markets.

“Over there, it’s all opportunity,” Henrik Jorst says.

Tight cost control grows in importance, too, as the company targets retail price points it describes as affordable luxury prices that allow the company’s watches, sunglasses and jewelry to sell as impulse

items.

That balancing act also comes into play in the design of its stand-alone Skagen Design stores.

The challenge, Charlotte Jorst says, is creation of a retail experience that is clearly upscale, but isn’t so daunting that buyers are afraid to step inside the door.