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The North Face plots franchise route

Outdoor brand The North Face has revealed plans to open up to 120 franchise stores in the UK and Europe over the next three to four years.

The US company’s European arm is slowing its own store openings in favour of launching shops through partner retailers including Ellis Brigham and Snow + Rock, as it looks to speed up its expansion. It will open around three of its own stores per year in the UK and Europe during the same period, down from a “significant” number a few years ago.

The North Face would not reveal where in the UK the expansion will focus on, but said it was one of the three priority markets alongside Germany and France.

The business has 35 stores and 110 partner stores in Europe, including 13 and 10 respectively in the UK.

The move comes after US parent company VF Corporation vowed to grow its turnover to $17.3bn (£10.7bn) by 2017. Its sales in 2014 are expected to be $12.3bn (£7.6bn).

VF also wants to increase its international business to 43% of total sales by 2017, up from 37% in 2012. It expects growth to be driven by its outdoor and sportswear division including The North Face, Vans and Timberland.

Arne Arens, EMEA general manager of outdoor and action sports for The North Face, said the European franchise push would allow the brand to “expand our retail footprint faster”.

Wholesale continues to be the backbone of the company, he added, but retail is growing. “Retail is a key part of our strategy. Over the last couple of years it has grown to be almost 20% of sales. Four years ago it was 10%.”

UK stockists include Ellis Brigham, Snow + Rock and Cotswold Outdoor, as well as some smaller regional shops. Arens would not disclose the total number of UK stockists.

The brand was picked up by JD Sports Fashion for the first time for autumn 14 in a limited number of stores. “That was a big step in terms of expanding our distribution,” said Arens.

Earlier this month, the business unveiled a new shopfit concept in its store on Southampton Street, Covent Garden.

It features videos and campaign materials referencing athletes and historic expeditions. “It appeals to what people enjoy about outdoor sports,” explained Arens.

It will be rolled out to a selection of existing UK stores – those in need of a refresh – and all new openings.

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