If you're eager for Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M to finally open a Charlotte store, well, keep waiting. The only new U.S. market the sought-after chain plans to enter the rest of this year is Portland, Ore., says a story in today's Wall Street Journal that attempts to explain why H&M has been so slow to arrive in many areas across the southern part of the country. Short answer: It's the weather. Says the article:
"The chain's Swedish parent company, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, isn't sure how to sell clothes in cities that are always warm...It wasn't until 2006, when the brand had around a hundred stores in the country, that the company finally entered the Los Angeles area, its first foray into a U.S. city with year-around sunshine.
H&M now has nearly 200 stores in the U.S. But they are noticeably absent in areas that seem ripe for its colorful tank tops and floral dresses. Austin, Houston and Dallas are bare, as are Salt Lake City and New Orleans. The states of New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina also lack an H&M, while Indiana boasts three.
In the few warm weather climates where H&M has ventured, its penetration is minimal. It only recently opened in Florida, in Orlando, and won't land in South Florida until this fall. It has only two stores in Las Vegas."This seems a somewhat strange explanation to me, as H&M has stores in both the Middle East and the warm, Mediterranean regions of Europe. But even if that does hold true, it still doesn't entirely explain the lack of a Charlotte store - after all, we have four seasons here, and H&M opened a location in Raleigh earlier this year. The company also has stores in Richmond and Atlanta, neither of which is known for its frigid climate.
If you've never been to an H&M, you might be wondering what the big deal is anyway. But there really isn't an equivalent local option to the chain's stylish, affordable basics and trendier pieces - and when I say "affordable," I mean, at truly recession-friendly prices. Even when the featured styles aren't quite up your alley - a lot of the floral tops and dresses I spotted there during a recent trip to New York brought on unpleasant flashbacks to the early 1990s - the variety changes quickly enough that if you don't find something that interests you on one visit, chances are that will change by the next time you stop in. Though I've never conducted a scientific poll (or, heck, an unscientific one), I'd bet the chain tops the list of stores that people would like to see come to Charlotte - and that that scenario would repeat itself in other H&M-free cities across the South. Compounding the frustration: You can't buy the company's clothes online in the U.S., either.
In the five-plus years I've lived here, Charlotte has been able to check some big names off its retail wish list: Trader Joe's, Crate & Barrel, Neiman Marcus and Ikea. Even Whole Foods and Saks Fifth Avenue, which have pulled back on plans to open in Charlotte, at least at one point announced their desire to have a local presence (although with Saks, it's perhaps a good thing it didn't happen, because the company is now shutting underperforming stores in the recession). But H&M, which opened its first U.S. store in New York 10 years ago, has continued to hold out. Though I'm pretty sure it will arrive eventually, for a lot of local shoppers, it can't come soon enough.