Goldfinger Buys Out Lee Cooper Local Franchise

Gidi Goldfinger, CEO of Concept Shivuk, which operates the Lee Cooper fashion chain, has bought out substantial shareholders Meir Hadar and Hashmira (21 percent) in a deal that some industry sources estimate was made at a company value of up to NIS 100 million.

With the acquisition, Goldfinger, the brother of Yair Goldfinger, one of the entrepreneurs who sold ICQ to America Online, becomes the sole owner of Concept Shivuk after having bought Koor Industries' stake in the company in September 2002 at a market value of NIS 60 million.

Lee Cooper is a British fashion label that specializes in denim garments. In Israel, Concept Shivuk enjoys relative freedom in designing the brand's fashions.

Goldfinger said that Concept, which also handles the Lee Cooper label in Romania, Serbia and Ukraine, will soon expand operations to South Africa, France and Cyprus. In South Africa, the company will work in a format different from other countries in which it operates due to import quotas and high import taxes. The local franchisee in South Africa will manufacture the models designed in Israel, and will pay royalties to Concept.

Concept also has begun selling Lee Cooper fashions at Gallery Lafayette in Paris at a store jointly run by the firm and Lee Cooper International. Goldfinger says the youthful Israeli designs will help Lee Cooper International expand its target audience from the 30-plus age group to youngsters aged 15-22.

"This is a dramatic step," Goldfinger says. "Until now, Lee Cooper was not willing to do this."

In Israel, the company actually is planning to target an older clientele. This summer, for example, Lee Cooper Israel will launch a new line for women, Lee Cooper Gold Denim, which will target women aged 22-30. The line is designed to help the company reach a clientele older than the teens who currently buy Lee Cooper clothes. Goldfinger says the new line will have its own label and be displayed differently. Only denim pants will be introduced in the summer, but by year's end, the company plans to launch a full collection with cleaner lines than the current designs.

20 new stores in 2005

Concept operates 33 Lee Cooper stores in Israel, and markets to 70 wholesalers. The company also runs two outlets in Romania and one in Belgrade. This year, Goldfinger plans to open four more stores in Israel at an investment of $400,000, two stores in Kiev, 10-12 stores in Romania, and two in Serbia. Next year, Concept will open its first Lee Cooper store in Nicosia, Cyprus. Concept also wholesales the Lee Cooper fashions it manufactures to Lee Cooper franchisees in Switzerland and France.

Goldfinger sets up stores with local franchisees with his own financing. In the meantime, he is not planning to bring in a partner or float the company on the stock exchange, since he believes he can finance its expansion with its equity, as long as such growth is controlled. Still, he would not be averse to a strategic partner if a suitable one were found.

Concept's 2004 sales were NIS 125 million, and the company's target in 2005 is NIS 170 million, Goldfinger says. Even though the firm will open only four new stores this year, he expects a rapid rise in sales due to the company's increased manufacturing capacity. He also believes this increased capacity will lead to sales of NIS 200 million in 2006. Goldfinger figures the Lee Cooper chain will have maximized its growth potential in Israel within two or three years.

Meanwhile, Concept has begun marketing another label as a franchisee - No Fear fashions for surfing and challenge sports. Like Lee Cooper, No Fear clothes sold in Israel will be designed here, and adapted to the local market. Goldfinger has no intention of starting a chain for the new label, but will open a flagship store in Eilat and market to specialty stores. Concept is investing $1.5 million in the new label, and Goldfinger believes sales will reach NIS 30-40 million within two or three years.