MONTBLANC BOUTIQUES WRITE NEW CHAPTER

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Montblanc USA is seeking a whole new point.

Looking to diversify beyond fine pens, Montblanc is taking a new approach to retailing. The 80-year-old company is set to open boutiques that will sell a variety of luxury items in at least 10 North American markets beginning in early 1995. It also plans to expand its "shop-in-shop" concept into more than a dozen upscale department stores like Bloomingdale's by March.

"We intend to create an awareness of the brand beyond the writing instrument and solidify it as a luxury lifestyle brand," said Wayne Kingsland, VP-marketing. "We have a vision to offer the Montblanc consumer a wider range of products-leathers, hand crafted papers, gift cards, picture frames and more."

Mr. Kingsland said the stores will experiment with selling some jewelry as well, including brooches, cuff links and tie bars. Also under consideration are necklaces and watches. All products will be produced by Montblanc, owned by Paris-based Vendome Group, which also owns Cartier, Piaget and Dunhill.

Montblanc recently launched a multimillion-dollar campaign in fashion, business and lifestyle magazines and some outdoor venues. The campaign, the first recent U.S. effort not created by Team BBDO, Hamburg, is handled by Waring & Larosa, New York. Spending wasn't disclosed.

Mr. Kingsland said the holiday season is usually the largest for the company and that an expected benefit of opening the boutiques is to develop more overall stability. "As we expand, our business becomes less seasonal," he said.

Analysts disagree on the timing of opening luxury stores in the current economy.

"The luxury goods category is doing pretty well," said Irwin Cohen, chairman of Deloitte & Touche's Trade Retail & Distribution Group, New York.

Others say the peak of the luxury goods business cycle has been missed and it's now a little late.

The free standing stores follow 15 others already open in Europe and Asia, but some analysts are uncertain if such success can be easily duplicated here.

"The U.S. market is much tougher," said Carl Steidtmann, director of research at Management Horizons, a retail consultancy in Columbus, Ohio. "The level of competition is much more intense, price competition is more intense and consumers are more sophisticated. There is a long list of examples of foreign companies that have had a harder time here."

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