Sunglass Hut has closed its small store in one of Paris' airport terminals, and it's looking for new tenants to take over its two existing leases in downtown Paris, but company executives deny a rumor that it plans other store closings throughout the Continent. In fact, the US chain, whose European business is still limited mainly to the UK, is about to finalize contracts for three new outlets in Valencia, Barcelona and the Canary Islands, which will be added to its 4 existing Spanish stores.

The company's 4 stores in the South of France are doing well. Sunglass Hut is considering re-entering the German market, following the shutdown of a store in Frankfurt's airport two years ago, but unlike Solaris (see previous story) it has no intention of entering the Italian sunglass market because it's dominated by generalists who pay old low rentals in A locations.

Anyway, like in the USA, Sunglass Hut's latest investments in Europe have been concentrated on the relocation and expansion of existing stores to accommodate a Watch Station department. Out of its 85 European stores, 53 have been already converted to the new combination format, but they could have been more if some landlords had not refused the change because of local competition.

Worldwide, the company converted 65 old-style Sunglass Hut stores to the new combo format during the 2nd quarter ended July 29. It closed 20 loss-making shops and opened 10 new combo stores and 2 sunwear specialty shops. The chain's combo stores, which are now 341 around the world, continued to feature higher sales increases on a same-store basis than the its sunglass-only outlets.

The international 1,988-store chain experienced an exceptionally strong 12 percent sales increase in the 4 weeks ended Aug. 26, including an 8.3 percent gain on a comparable basis, as compared to the same period one year ago. North American and Australasian sales have been strong for several months now. European sales were soft in July, but they rebounded in August, recording positive double-digit growth.

In the 2nd quarter, Sunglass Hut's net income dropped to $18,549,000 from $20,543,000 in the year-ago period. Sales grew by 3.2 percent to $206 million, with a 2.7 percent gain on a same-store basis offsetting a drop in the 1st quarter. Watch World contributed operating losses after its acquisition on June 30, but it should become profitable in the 2nd half.

Meanwhile, Sunglass Hut has made some important executive appointments. Steve Pattison, former vice president of corporate planning of Burger King, has joined Sunglass Hut to work as senior vice president and chief financial officer, replacing Larry Petersen who resigned a few weeks ago. In his previous role, Pattison was involved in the migration of Burger King's key financial and human resources systems to SAP. In his new role at Sunglass Hut, Pattison, a 43-year-old executive who began his career at KPMG Peat Marwick in South Florida, will be responsible for accounting, treasury, tax, financial planning, budgeting analysis and investor relations.

Furthermore, Greg Milne, who has been successfully running the Australasian division in Sydney for the past 4 years, has become chief operating officer for North America. The founder of Watch World, Mati Weiderpass, has been named vice president of watch merchandising, responsible also for the combo stores.

Separately, Sunglass Hut has formed an interesting ?picture perfect? partnership in the USA with MakeoverStudio.com, the internet site of Makeover Networks of San Mateo, CA which allows visitors to try on thousands of products on their own images after uploading one of their own photos. The partnership will enable consumers to order any of 100 different styles offered on Sunglasshut.com after trying them on in a virtual environment.