Commercial Real Estate & Advisory

Cutlery Purveyor Carves Niche in Soho

By Dan Geiger | December 7, 2011


Like many retailers with a pent-up desire to establish a retail presence in the city, the high-end purveyor of cutlery Victorinox had grand ambitions.

In 2010, the company envisioned several locations in New York City, including a large flagship store, as well as a series of branches in major cities throughout North America, including Canada and Mexico. To help it carry out its goals, Victorinox hired MICHAEL GLANZBERG, a senior executive and principal at the retail brokerage and advisory firm Sinvin Real Estate, to help it open at least three locations in the city and several more across the U.S. and Canada.

For retailers looking to gain a foothold in North America, New York City is often an essential beachhead for the kind of brand awareness and sales it can generate. But with Manhattan’s rich rewards, getting in, as the company would soon learn, can be a challenge.

Mr. Glanzberg has grown his practice to include not only most of the city, but major metropolitan areas across the country as well, helping several retailers find space in markets like Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Boston. His reach appealed to Victorinox, but so did his specialized knowledge. Sinvin was founded as a brokerage that did deals primarily in Soho, the Village and other retail neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan and Mr. Glanzberg got started as a broker who initially focused on and excelled in those areas.

Soho was already on Victorinox’s radar. For years, the company operated its only retail location on Prince Street, but the store was diminutive and had obvious flaws to Mr. Glanzberg’s trained eye.

“Prince Street had narrow frontage and a single small window as well as a narrow entrance,” Mr. Glanzberg said. “These obscured the brand’s presence and restricted the ability to properly merchandise the store and maximize foot traffic and achieve the desired flow [of shoppers].”

Mr. Glanzberg didn’t have to do much convincing. A bigger and better location in Soho was something that immediately appealed to Victorinox, Mr. Glanzberg said. For one, the company had familiarity with the district and, hence, felt a level of comfort that would allow it to move forward quickly with a deal there. Its lease, at 136 Prince Street, was also drawing down to the end of its term.

It would have to move quickly. Soho is one of Manhattan’s most popular shopping corridors and, like only a handful of other locations in the city, such as Times Square and Fifth Avenue, its popularity and prominence offer a stage from which retailers can project an image and boost their brands in a manner that brokers often say is akin to advertising. Indeed, successful retailers like Uniqlo and Topshop, which until recent years had had little or no presence in the U.S., launched their Manhattan operations starting in Soho.

Mr. Glanzberg soon found a site worthy of Victorinox’s big dreams.

The site, 160 Spring Street, a vacant development parcel at the corner of West Broadway and owned by the Soho landlord Henry Hay, would allow a multistory retail structure more than 10,000 square feet in size to be built. Though expensive, the project seemed ideal.

Victorinox, founded in the 1880s, rose to fame for its iconic line of Swiss army knives. But in recent years the brand’s focus has greatly widened to include not only high-end cutlery, but luggage, apparel and watches. Though its goods are sold in department stores and by other retailers, Victorinox wanted its own chain of shops to better market and connect the universe of its diverse products with shoppers. The 160 Spring project would offer the company a large enough store to display its entire line of goods while making the big splash on the Manhattan retail scene that it had been aiming for.

But as is often the case with even the best-laid plan in the city’s real estate market, complications began to quickly unravel the deal. Mr. Glanzberg would not discuss the 160 Spring Street development, perhaps because of the potential for future negotiations there, but sources familiar with the site and Mr. Hay’s talks with Victorinox say the project fell apart during negotiations over who would bear the potential cost overruns for the construction and also because of the difficult logistics clearing the project’s design with the city agencies that supervise what can be erected in the landmark neighborhood.

Instead of the home run deal he hoped he could pull off, Mr. Glanzberg suddenly found himself with a stalled deal on his hands and a fast-expiring lease for Victorinox’s existing space. But while Mr. Glanzberg uses applications like Google Earth to help scout out locations for clients in other cities, Soho is a market he knows intimately and it wasn’t long before he found Victorinox a solid backup.

Over the summer he brokered a deal to have the company move into a 3,000-square-foot space at 114 Wooster Street. Though it wasn’t to be the palatial, brand-leading location that had been initially envisioned, the Wooster store maintains the retailer’s presence in Soho while offering a significant improvement over its former space on Prince Street.

“Wooster Street has twice the frontage, all glass, in a full rectangular shape that has no bottleneck, located in a beautiful traditional Soho building with classic detail, and it also has a lower level for selling,” Mr. Glanzberg said. “Beyond the physical characteristics, another major change is co-tenancies. The new Wooster store sits directly opposite the Wooster entrance to the new Tiffany’s store and is between Chanel just to the south and Barney’s Soho Co-Op directly north.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Glanzberg has been focused on helping Victorinox in its bold national roll-out. Besides the deal on Wooster, he has brokered several transactions for the company outside of the city, securing spaces for it in Westchester County, Short Hills, N.J., Los Angeles, Seattle and Toronto. According to him, more stores are on the way both in the U.S. and Canada and also in Mexico.

And plans for a Manhattan flagship, though delayed, are far from dead.”We’ll probably do an East Side and a West Side store culminating with a Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue North American flagship,” Mr. Glanzberg said, noting that the company would likely lease those spaces over the next two to three years.