* To slow North American store openings
* Eyes long-term holdings of 300 stores
* Shares drop more than 10 pct
TORONTO, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Lululemon Athletica LLL.TO (LULU.O) plans to slow the pace of new store openings, but the clothier said on Friday it still aims to have more than 300 outlets in its portfolio in the years ahead.
“We’re not going to maintain the same aggressive pace of store growth in 2009, but we will continue to build,” John Currie, the company’s chief financial officer, said during an industry conference in Whistler, British Columbia. At present, it says it has more than 100 outlets.
“2009 is a year to take a bit of a breather and make sure we have caught our breath to resume growth once the economy is in a better position to do so.”
The company, known for its trendy yogawear and fitness gear, had a long-term growth target of 35 stores per year, but Currie said “it’s not the right timing to continue at that rate.”
Instead Lululemon plans to scale back and wait until lease rates for potential stores drop even lower before committing to long-term agreements.
“We’re being patient and taking a time out in our growth so that when we do sign new leases, we are getting leases at the bottom of the market that are going to set us for long-term success,” he said.
However, Currie said Lululemon still plans to stick to its aggressive growth plans in the United States.
The company currently has about 63 stores in the United States, which Currie said “is just the tip of the iceberg.”
He sees the potential for more than 300 stores in North America, with Canada home to 40 to 50, and the bulk of new stores in the United States.
Lululemon shares, which went public in July 2007 at $25 on Nasdaq, were down 10 percent at $5.40 on Friday. In Toronto, the shares were off 11 percent at $6.74.
$1=$1.25 Canadian Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Rob Wilson