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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iconix Brand Group Inc (ICON.O) plans to open specialty stores for the Candie's shoe and apparel brand in China as part of its strategy for rapid growth in that country, its top executive said.
The company owns and licenses brands including Candie's, Joe Boxer and Badgley Mischka, and already licenses its products to retailers like Target Corp (TGT.N), Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and Kohl's Corp (KSS.N).
Iconix expects the first Candie's specialty store to open in Shanghai in August, with a total of 50 stores in the country by the end of the year, Chief Executive Neil Cole told the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York.
The agreement with Shanghai La Chapelle Garment and Accessories Co Ltd and private equity group Trust Bridge Partners, along with Iconix's recent acquisition of the Peanuts comic strip brand, will expand Iconix into more than 5,000 locations over the next three years, Cole said.
Cole also said that the company is looking for more acquisitions, and that the markets are better than a year ago.
"I am pretty excited about the acquisition market ... A major part of our growth comes from acquisitions and will continue to do so," Cole said.
However, the CEO said he was not planning to get into a licensing agreement with Playboy Enterprises Inc PLA.N and does not expect to revisit a deal with that company in the near future, putting an end to months of speculation.
Cole said Iconix was not "comfortable" with some of Playboy's businesses.
The expansion plan in China is part of Iconix's strategy to boost its international business to 30 percent of sales in three years from 6 percent in 2009, Cole said. Half of those international sales will probably be in China, he said.
Iconix, which also markets brands like Fieldcrest and London Fog, is seeking growth that cannot be found in America, where companies that have seen success are just taking market share from rivals, Cole said.
"We think the big growth comes from China ... America seems to be a zero growth area right now, and it's eat or be eaten," Cole said.
In China, Iconix's strategy is to go big, rather than moving into a handful of stores in a small number of cities.
"We're going across the country in hundreds of major cities, cities I've never heard of," Cole said.
Iconix shares were unchanged on Tuesday afternoon at $15.73. Playboy slid nearly 3 percent to $3.68.
Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Gerald E. McCormick