Franki Expands Physical Retail Footprint

Franki, the tween brand line from specialty retailer Francesca’s, is launching eight permanent locations following a series of pop-up retail stores.

Franki, which debuted online and in Francesca’s locations at the end of 2020, experimented with several pop-up retail locations over five months before making the move to permanent, standalone stores. In April alone, four permanent retail stores opened, including Mall of America in Minnesota. 

Pop-ups have become popular formats for retailers and brands to promote awareness, engage customers in a unique way and experiment with new concepts, products, collaborations and launches. For Franki, the model proved successful over just a short period of time.

“In November '21 ready for [the] holiday [season], we opened [two] pop-up Franki stores–– Memorial City Mall in Houston, Texas, right here in our corporate office backyard, and another in Tyson's Corner Mall in the D.C. market,” Chris Kaighn, senior vice president of boutiques, real estate and strategic partners at Francesca’s, told Retail Leader. “The pop-ups provided us with the chance to test the concept, and gain valuable insights into the right kinds of locations, store size and layout, assortment, and customer response and feedback. … Leading with select doors allowed us to refine what works and to hone the environment for a new consumer.”

As consumers return to stores to shop and resume their pre-pandemic behaviors, now is the right time to shift from the pop-up format to permanent retail presences for the brand.

“People are ready to connect with one another again, and that includes experiences in retail stores,” Kaighn said. “We are also going back to pre-pandemic activities such as weddings, vacations, dining out and dressing for work. There is a great opportunity for retailers with physical stores to be ready for consumers to seek those connections and experiences.”

In addition to opening a location in Mall of America, Franki is setting up shop in seven other locations by the end of May, according to Kaighn. The boutiques will range from 1,200-1,600 square feet and drop new collections at the beginning of each month based on customer mindset and what’s going on in tween girls' lives at that time. The retailer plans to host grand opening parties at each location, as well as interactive events for mid-summer, back to school and beyond.

In addition to the expanding retail footprint, Franki launched its own website.

“This thought process is akin to how we developed our in-store strategy; in both cases, we started on our platforms to benefit from organic traffic and to refine the message on the francesca’s platform,” Kaighn said of the Franki omnichannel strategy. “Knowing that we wanted to create an environment with today’s tween in mind, it seemed only natural that we delivered her own personal space online, just as we are in store.”

The new brand is a big change for Francesca’s, which has typically catered to dressing up women. With the pandemic consumer behavior changes, Francesca’s launched its first athletic line to meet consumer demand for more casual and comfortable clothing. The retailer struggled with sales for the two years leading up to the pandemic before filing for bankruptcy in 2020 and being acquired by Francesca’s Acquisition, an affiliate of TerraMar Capital, Tiger Capital Group and SB360 Capital Group.

With the new tween brand Franki, Francesca’s is jumping on the omnichannel opportunities with its emerging digital and physical retail presence.

“The consumer can go shopping anywhere, we’re seeing the opportunity for frictionless purchasing developing from marketplaces to social media and beyond,” Kaighn said. “Given that our newest customer was born with all of this literally at her fingertips, it made sense for us to go where she was and make it easy for her to experience the brand. The end goal is to create unique experiences to engage her, whether in store, in the digital world or via experiential activities. And we’re just getting started.”