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Tiffany Montgomery
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How business is going in Puerto Rico

By Tiffany Montgomery
May 06, 2008 5:55 AM

I wanted to check out some stores while I was in Puerto Rico at the Board Retailers Association Summit so I asked Luis Santori if he would take me to see a Bora Bora store. Luis is the vice president of merchandising and marketing for Bora Bora, which has seven stores in Puerto Rico.


On the drive over to Bora Bora's 5,500-square-foot flagship, left, at the upscale Plaza Las Américas shopping center I asked Luis how business is going these days.


Bora Bora"Retail is tough, the economy is tough," he said. "In Puerto Rico it has been tough for the last couple of years."


Company-wide, Bora Bora is planning for a double digit same store sales decline in 2008.


The tough times makes you sharper, Luis believes.


"It makes you a better retailer," he said. "You make adjustments. We watch what the competition does, but really what we concentrate on is our own business."


Increased competition


Mostly, Bora Bora's mall-based stores cater to locals rather than tourists. When Bora Bora started in 1992, it was the only cool teen retailer in the mall. As the years have gone on, competitors have arrived, including American Eagle, PacSun and Macy's.


"Our biggest advantage is they focus on the national level, and we focus on the local Puerto Rico level," Luis said.


That means carrying special products that work just for Puerto Rico. For example, during back to school, Bora Bora carries backpacks that are much smaller than a typical backpack found in the national chains. That's because at Puerto Rico public schools, the books stay at school and don't go home. So kids don't need a huge backpack to lug books around.


More competitors are opening all the time. As we walked around the Plaza Las Americas, which reminded me of South Coast Plaza with its flagship and upscale stores, Luis and I saw signs announcing Aeropostale was opening soon.


Luis shook his head and smiled when he saw the sign. "We are all competing for the same dollar," he said.


What sells in Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico is very brand conscious, Luis said. He ranks the brands in the area as No. 1 Quiksilver, No. 2 Volcolm, No. 3 Billabong, No. 4 O'Neill.


In general, Bora Bora sticks to the top brands but did bring in Matix this year to some stores. In the outlying areas of Puerto Rico, though the customer says, "just give me the top four or five brands," Luis said.


The biggest sellers year-round thanks to the tropical weather are T-shirts, boardshorts and walkshorts.


Puerto Ricans are trend conscious, and trends come and go very quickly, Luis said.


"There's a big trend, then a big drop," he said. "You have to move quickly or it's over."


He gave the example of plaid walkshorts, which were huge in 2007. But discounters started carrying them, and that's the sign the trend is over, Luis said.


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