Golfsmith Inc. CEO, President and Director Jim Thompson said in an investor presentation at the Merrill Lynch Retailing Leaders Conference last week that the business is now 75% store-based and 25% catalog and Internet-direct-based. This ratio is quite a reversal from just four years ago when 70% of the company’s sales were derived from its catalog operations. GOLF expects to open 12 to 14 stores by the end of 2007 and said that typically it takes 2.5 years for a store to payback its start-up costs. Thompson sees the U.S. as capable of supporting up to 250 Golfsmith stores. Finally, he addressed the new PGA Superstores, saying that the larger-footprinted retailer “had a real impact on [Golfsmiths’s] results,” and that were it not for the new PGA Superstores, Golfsmith would have seen a 3.5% increase in comparable store sales instead of the 2.0% gain reported for 2006.

At Brown Shoe, Mark Hood, SVP and CFO, said he doesn’t see any huge problems securing real estate despites the influx of competitors, including Foot Locker, into the family footwear space. “We operate from a partnership aspect so, we keep relations with developers across the country. We’re not seeing any lack of available space,” said Hood.

The recent success of Famous Footwear is helping the chain get better real estate deals as a more desired anchor. But Hood also said a shift in real estate strategy to open more stores in each market to gain “deeper penetration” will allow Famous Footwear to gain “some leverage with the real estate community” in deals. The tighter market concentration also keeps marketing and store management costs down. The CFO also said most leases have three-year or five-year kick-out clauses in case a certain shopping center starts experiencing less traffic.

Asked about newer competitors coming into the space, Hood said he expects to see continued consolidation in the space. But he added, “Brown Shoe is fortunate to be in a position where we have a lot of promising brands on the wholesale side and a very solid business in retail. We have good organic growth opportunities on both sides. We are also fortunate that we have a strong balance sheet that would let us participate with the consolidation if it made sense for Brown Shoe Co.”

Iconix Brand Group sees a chance to double sales to Wal-Mart of its recently-acquired Danskin brand. “That’s what really excited us about buying the brand was the Wal-Mart opportunity,” said ICON CEO Neil Cole at the Merrill Lynch conference. “This is our way for us to gain entry at Wal-Mart with a brand that we still feels has a lot of growth there.”

Cole said the brand helps diversify Iconix’s stable of brands by providing an active/lifestyle component, but the brand already had a diverse distribution, including about $60 million in annual sales going to upstairs channels such as Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. They continue to sell to Bloomingdales and Nordstrom, but are also still able to sell “a younger line at Wal-Mart.”

Regarding Ocean Pacific, which Iconix acquired last year, the company said Warnaco continues to handle the swimwear license, but management is in the final stages of announcing a major new licensing program to grow the brand. It’s exploring both licensing the name to retailers as well as traditional wholesale partners.

Warnaco, Inc. offered more insight into the Speedo business, indicating that the brand’s accessories business has grown into an $80 million business, including a $40 million business in goggles and approximately $30 million in footwear. “Those are very high margin businesses for us,” said Joe Gromek, Warnaco’s CEO and president, at the Merrill Lynch conference.

Overall, Speedo’s revenues are approaching $260 million with an operating margin north of 16%. It reaches about 13,000 doors around the U.S.

Overall, Speedo’s revenues are approaching $260 million with an operating margin north of 16%. It reaches about 13,000 doors around the U.S.