Bakers Footwear Group, which claims to be the only national full-service retailer in the USA specializing in moderately priced footwear for young women, has gone public with a successful offering of 2.16 million of its 4.64 million shares at $7.75 each. It was originally planning to sell less equity and the value of the stock has gone up since. The proceeds will be used to repay debt, to remodel the existing stores and open 45-50 new ones within the next couple of years.

The group operates 185 stores throughout the USA under the Bakers banner and 30 others, called Wild Pair, that target a narrower group of women between the ages of 17 and 24 with edgier, fast-fashion models. Bakers uses sophisticated “micro-merchandising” and “test and react” methods to optimize sales and inventory turns. The shoes come from China, Brazil, Italy and Spain. Most of them are unbranded, but in recent times the group has raised the proportion of branded items, which now represent about 18 percent of sales, concentrating on nationally recognized brands like Skechers, Guess Sport, Steve Madden, Bebe and Chinese Laundry.

Sales declined marginally for the group last year to $140.7 million, with a 3.2 percent drop on a same-store basis, due to the war in Iraq and customers’ preferences for cheap sandals, but they grew by 4 percent in the 4th quarter as women returned to dressier models and bought more colorful styles. The sales revenues of the stores that have been remodelled increased by 15.1 percent in 2003. The group had a net loss of $3.6 million in the first 9 months of last year, leading to negative equity of $1.1 million, but for the full year it posted net profit of $1,616,315 based on preliminary results, down from $6,959,653 in the prior year. Operating income fell to $2,862,700 from $6,434,524.

The Bakers group stems from the 1999 acquisition by Weiss & Neuman, a former shoe retailer in St. Louis, of another company in the same city, Edison Brothers, which operated the Bakers and Wild Pair shoe retail chains and went bankrupt in 1997. In 2002, the group bought Sam & Lilly, a chain of 37 women’s footwear stores, for $1.8 million.