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NEW YORK CITY-This year, Claire’s Stores Inc. will beef upits international presence, expanding its store countby more than 12%, according to co-chairman of theboard and co-CEO Marla Schaefer who spoke at the SIGRetail Focus Forum Thursday.

“There are so many opportunities that we have outthere,” Schaefer said, pointing out that Claire’sstill has a quite a few unexplored markets. “Wehaven’t even touched on South America, which looks tobe a phenomenal franchise opportunity.” Additionally,the chain could expand into Russia and Eastern Europe.

Currently, there are 736 Claire’s and Icing stores inEurope, 166 stores in Japan, 70 stores in the Middle East and six stores in South Africa. “They loveus in the Arab and South African countries,” Schaefersaid. The chain boasts a total of 978 stores outsideof North America, and by the end of the year thatnumber will have increased by 120 to 135 stores. “Wehave major expansion opportunities,” she noted.

This year, the chain expanded into Spain, openingseven stores, and just last week opened its firststore in Holland. The average Claire’s store in Europeis 604 sf and brings in $869 per sf compared to $401per sf for North American stores, which average 1,086sf. “We think Europe could be bigger than NorthAmerica,” Schaefer contended, adding that internationalsales are forecast to account for 31% of the company’ssales, which are expected to reach $1.2 billion.

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