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Wet Seal Hits Beach in East by Opening Outlets in Florida

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Wet Seal Inc. will expand to the East Coast for the first time this summer, with the opening of three of its trendy junior women’s wear stores in Florida, the company said Tuesday.

The stores will open in late August and raise the chain’s store count to 78, said Ken Chilvers, Wet Seal’s president. The retailer hopes to open two other Florida stores by the end of 1990.

Spokeswoman Lesly Martin said the company is expanding to Florida because the climate is similar to Southern California’s and other areas where the chain has stores.

The company’s expansion strategy has been to open stores in areas with climates similar to Southern California’s, enabling it to buy products in larger volume and offer the same styles at each outlet.

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Founded on Balboa Island in 1962, Wet Seal was bought for $2 million by Canadian retailer Suzy Shier in 1984, when there were 17 stores in the chain.

Shier expanded the chain and transformed the stores into high-energy merchandising scenes, with music videos on the walls and lines of sportswear and junior apparel for the teen-agers and young women.

Most of Wet Seal’s stores are in Southern California. The chain expanded outside California for the first time when it opened a store in Phoenix in November, 1988. It also has a store in Las Vegas and in April opened the first of four stores planned in Hawaii.

Pat Murphy, a partner and retail consultant at the Ernst & Young accounting firm in Costa Mesa, said several markets within Florida, such as Orlando and West Palm Beach, are among the 20 fastest-growing retail markets in the nation. Wet Seal’s first stores in Florida will be in Miami, Coral Springs and Tampa.

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While much of the retail industry remains sluggish, Wet Seal has steadily increased its sales and profits.

For the year ended Feb. 3, 1990, the company earned $5.9 million on sales of $78.7 million, in contrast with earnings of $1.8 million on sales of $44.9 million a year earlier.

Chilvers is on a national tour to promote Wet Seal’s planned first public stock offering.

The company plans to raise $30 million from the offering and use it to pay off debt, upgrade its computer system, improve distribution and build more stores.

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WET SEALS MULTIPLY

Wet Seal opened 12 stores in California, two in Arizona and one in Nevada in 1989. Plans for 1990 include 10 California stores, five in Florida, four in Hawaii and one in Arizona. Here are the number of stores open at the beginning of the fiscal year from 1985 to 1990.

Number of stores: Fiscal year begins Feb. 3 ’85: 18 ’90 (As of June 26, 1990): 78

HEADQUARTERS: Irvine

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TOP EXECUTIVES: Irving Teitelbaum, chairman; Ken Chilvers, president and chief executive

BUSINESS: Specialty junior women’s fashion stores

MARKETS: Southern California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Florida (opening in August)

NET INCOME: $5.9 million for fiscal 1989, ended Feb. 3, 1990, compared with $1.8 million a year earlier

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SALES: $78.7 million for fiscal 1989, compared with 44.9 million a year earlier Source: Wet Seal, Inc.


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