Right from the runway is the Express way. Express operates more than 600 stores throughout the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico that sell trendy private-label apparel and accessories targeted to men and women between the ages of 20 and 30. (The chain's fashions are styled to have an international influence and modern appeal.) Most Express stores are dual-gender shops, but it also operates about 45 single-sex locations. The stores are located primarily in malls. Express also sells denim and lingerie and operates a growing online business. Launched by Limited Brands (later renamed L Brands) in 1980, Express was taken public in 2010 by the private equity firm Golden Gate Capital (GGC).
GGC, which bought ailing Express from Limited Brands in 2007 and still owns more than 20% of the company's shares, took Express public in an IPO worth about $272 million. (The proceeds were used to reduce debt, which amounted to about $367 million at the end of January 2011.) The IPO followed years of pain for Express, which has closed more than 300 stores since 2005 amid declining sales. During that time it converted most of its remaining locations to a dual-gender format, which the company believes is more productive and profitable.
In its first year as a public company, Express returned to growth mode. Indeed, fiscal 2011 (ends January) sales increased by about 11% vs. the previous year and net income was up about 69% over the same period. Also, same-store sales grew by a robust 10%, after posting negative comparisons in each of the two previous years. Online sales increased 60% in fiscal 2011 and are a growth driver for the business. Express is once again adding stores, with a target of opening 30 shops, on average, annually across the US and Canada through 2015. The chain opened its first store in Canada in September 2011 and now has about five shops there. It has also enlisted a development partner, Alshaya Trading Co., to bring the Express banner to the Middle East. Currently, there are more than half a dozen Express locations in the region. Looking to expand in Central and South America, Express in 2012 partnered with retail franchise operator, Fastco Commercial S.A., to open stores under the Express banner in 10 countries in the region, including Panama, Peru, and Costa Rica.