Business Irish

Sunday 22 September 2019

US market offers Primark 'significant opportunity' - CEO

Penneys owner moves beyond trial phase in America after early success

'We are now starting to move from that north-east corridor, coming inland to Chicago and down to Miami, Florida. So that's very exciting for us,' says Paul Marchant, CEO of Primark, on its American strategy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
'We are now starting to move from that north-east corridor, coming inland to Chicago and down to Miami, Florida. So that's very exciting for us,' says Paul Marchant, CEO of Primark, on its American strategy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Value retailer Primark, which trades as Penneys in Ireland, believes the US market offers "a very exciting opportunity" for the Dublin- headquartered business.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Primark CEO Paul Marchant said it was significant that the company was now moving beyond its initial 10-store trial there, having made small adjustments to its model.

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"We're really pleased with the US. We are really encouraged actually," he said. The company will soon open its 10th store - in New Jersey - and will then open one in Florida and in downtown Chicago. The first US store opened in Boston in 2015.

Marchant said: "We are now starting to move from that north-east corridor, coming inland to Chicago and down to Miami, Florida. So that's very exciting for us.

"The fact that we are moving beyond the 10-store trial we initially announced now will give you some indication that we're starting to see some really positive progress in the US."

The group now has 373 stores. Marchant declined to speculate on how many it would like to open in the US but said it would expand at a manageable pace.

"We've always focused on the long-term health of this business," he said. "We wouldn't have gone to the US if we didn't feel it had significant opportunities for us.

"It's important that we didn't run before we could walk, and we learn the lessons in a controlled and manageable way. But the US is a big market clearly; 300 million-plus inhabitants.

"It's a big market and if we can get that right, I think clearly that provides a very exciting opportunity for us."

It has reduced the size of its stores for the US market, with trading space there working out at around 35,000 to 40,000 sq ft, while new European stores are around 50,000 sq ft. He said part of the issue was that in Europe, people travel further to shop and so a store will have a wider geographic appeal, whereas in the US, shoppers tend to shop more locally.

The company marks its 50th anniversary this year. It was founded by the recently deceased Arthur Ryan in 1969 and is owned by Associated British Foods, which is majority-owned by the Weston family.

Marchant said he was not overly focused on Brexit or fears of a global recession.

"We believe we can thrive in an up-turning market, we think we can thrive in a down-turning market," he said. He also said that it was "comfortable" not offering online shopping at present.

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