Shoppers of francesca’s, however, can expect a completely different experience whenever they enter a new location. “While we have a lot of locations, we operate each as if it were a small, mom-and-pop store,” says Clary Groen, vice president of real estate and construction for the Houston-headquartered women’s boutique. “Many times, when someone walks into one of our boutiques, they don’t realize that we’re a national retailer, and we love that.”

Shoppers familiar with one francesca’s location are often surprised and excited to find and visit other locations, as they will differ from their home store both inside and out. “We use a multitude of types of materials and designs for our storefronts, so no two look alike, and we recently started launching new interior design prototypes, as well,” he adds. “Everything we do is in keeping with our desire to be a boutique concept perceived by our customers to be unique in nature.”

On the merchandising side, clothes, accessories and other items sold in francesca’s boutiques are available only in limited numbers, giving shoppers a sense of finding a unique outfit.   “Our customers are incentivized to buy something they like the first time they come in, because that item may not be around on their second visit,”  Groen notes.

Room to Grow

With more than 450 locations in 46 states and plans to add 85 stores by the end of 2014 alone, francesca’s has become one of the country’s fastest-growing specialty retailers. 

Average locations range from 1,200 to 1,300 square feet, which means francesca’s stores can fit well into a variety of sites including enclosed malls, shopping centers and lifestyle centers. Outlet shopping centers in particular are a growing market for the company and the focus of much of its growth moving forward. “Our smaller size and proven success in multiple venues has given us a lot of room to grow in the United States,” Groen says. “We have the ability to be flexible in the venues we enter as well as in the size of the market.”

francesca’s stores can be found in urban and suburban settings in a variety of markets. “We aren’t targeting a specific region – we try to be diverse in the approach we take to locating our boutiques across the country, and don’t oversaturate any particular region in a given year,” he adds.

New store planning begins six months in advance. The planning process includes securing permits as well as finalizing leases before construction begins. The company’s real estate and construction departments collaborate closely with other portions of the organization including merchandising in weekly meetings leading up to store openings.

“The challenge for us is to plan and prepare well in advance of opening stores in February, because that’s what leads to the most success for us in terms of store performance and being under budget with each opening,” Groen says.    

In addition to opening new locations, the company is also planning renovations to many of its existing locations. The company’s in-house design staff developed four new prototypes for store renovations, which will be selected based on store locations. “We want to make sure that multiple stores in the same market each have a unique look,” he adds.