Tod's launched an e-commerce service in the U.S. on March 13, which will be a testing ground before expanding the service to Europe at the end of this year or in early 2013.

The initiative is part of the group's ongoing move to boost its retail business. At the end of 2011, the group had 176 directly operated stores (DOS) and 70 franchises compared with 159 DOS and 71 franchises a year earlier. Most of the store openings were in Asia, especially in China and Hong Kong, where the group has an aggregate of 41 DOS.

The group has more than 20 stores openings in the pipeline and estimates that it will inaugurate 15-20 this year, mainly in China. Half the Chinese stores will be located in Tier 1 cities and the remainder in Tier 2 cities. Nearly half the shops will be opened during the first half.

One store opening is scheduled in the U.S, under the Roger Vivier banner, one in Japan and a couple in South Korea. The bulk of the openings will be under the Tod's banner, about quarter will be under the Hogan name and three stores will be Roger Vivier.

Overseas markets are expected to overtake domestic sales this year. The company is seeking to expand retail outside of Italy, which still represented half of its €893.6 million in sales in 2011, partly because it can make higher profits abroad. Tod's noted that the average markup, representing the difference between the wholesale and retail prices, is 2.3-2.4 in Italy. This compares with 2.4-2.5 times for continental Europe. In the U.K. and the U.S., the markup reaches 2.6-2.7. However, unlike in Europe, American retail prices do not include value-added tax so the markup is effectively much higher because sales taxes are added to the retail price. In Asia, the markup varies from 3.0-4.0 times. Growth in the U.S. and Asia is expected to boost Tod's profitability despite higher transportation costs and import duties.

In a conference call, Tod's chief financial officer, Emilio Macellai, said that he is confident that the group can increase its top line by 6 percent in 2012, which would represent revenues of nearly €950 million, and improve its Ebitda margin by 0.1 percentage points to 26.1 percent. The improvement could lead to a significant increase in net profits, which rose by 23.8 percent last year to €135.0 million. Tod's bolstered its dividend by 25.0 percent to €2.5 per share.

Macellari added that the trend at the beginning of the year was in line with the last quarter of 2011, with European markets, especially Italy, under pressure, the U.S. growing at a faster pace and Asia outperforming the lot.

In the 11 weeks running from Jan. 1 to March 11, same-store sales rose by 7.1 percent at company-run stores. This compares with a 12.1 percent increase for the whole of 2011. Tod's explained that 2012 started on a weak tone but sales started to pick up from the second half of January. Retail was also hit by extremely cold weather in Europe during the month of February.

Macellari said it is premature to give a guidance on the order intake by wholesale clients and franchisees for the fall/winter season because less than a third of the collection has been sold. At the same time last year, the group had already sold about half of the fall/winter collection. Tod's said that it started the sales campaign about two weeks later and that it is applying strict commercial terms. It accepts orders only after having received payment. On average, the group increased the prices of the fall/winter line by about 3 percent.

This year, the group plans to maintain advertising and promotion expenses at around 9.0 percent of revenues, roughly at the same level as in 2011. Capital expenditures will reach €50-60 million compared with €61.9 million in 2011. Last year's figure was bloated by a €20 million contribution toward the restoration of the Colosseum in Rome.

Separately, Tod's has indicated that it will merge with Formapura, a wholly owned marketing unit of the company. Tod's has also announced that its contract with Derek Lam, its creative director, will end as of Sept. 30. The company's press release noted that as the role of creative director becomes even more important, it needed someone who can devote plenty of time to the success of the brand. Lam launched his own website selling ready-to-wear and accessories in February 2010.