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GOING PUBLIC

Handbag Maker Vera Bradley Files for IPO

The iconic summer handbag company was founded in an Indiana basement with just $250 in start-up capital.

Michael Conroy/AP

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Handbag maker Vera Bradley, which sold quilted handbags and accessories valued at $289 million last year, hopes to pull in $175 million more through its stock sale, it said in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The 28-year-old Indiana-based company is planning on aggressive expansion. Currently, Vera Bradley has 29 stand-alone shops, which could mushroom to 300 following an infusion of capital. Its products also are carried in some 3,300 independent retail shops across the U.S.

Vera Bradley plans to open nine full-price and three outlet stores in fiscal year 2011 alone. (Of its 29 shops, 28 are full-price and one is an outlet.) Though it's best known for handbags, the company also makes luggage, laptop and iPad cases, eyewear, stationery, mousepads, and men's accessories. This month, it launched insulated lunch bags.

The company – named after co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard's mother, Veronica "Vera" Bradley – began in Baekgaard's basement, with $250 she borrowed from her husband. The inspiration: Stuck in Atlanta's airport in 1982 en route to a vacation, Baekgaard and her friend Patricia Miller were not impressed with the luggage they saw for sale, and thought they could do better. Two weeks later they launched with three products: a handbag, a sports bag, and a duffel bag. 

Within the first year, the company made $10,000 – and in five years, sales topped $3 million. Recently, the company has grown even more dramatically. Sales stood at $58.4 million in 2002, $120.7 million in 2005 – and $289 million last year, for growth of 21.1 percent over the previous year "despite the continuing economic recession," the company noted. Vera Bradley began selling online in 2006, and opened its first stand-alone shop in 2007.

The company has applied to be listed on Nasdaq, but has not yet selected a ticker symbol. No doubt it will be something colorful and flowery.

Last updated: Jul 9, 2010

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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