Bench, the Philippine's most popular clothing brand, has opened a small test store in Serramonte Center in Daly City, Calif., its first on the U.S. mainland. The retailer, which is headquartered in Pasay City, Philippines, has already expanded globally to markets in China, the Middle East and Guam.

Bench, which offers basics-type lifestyle clothing, undergarments (Bench Body) and fragrance (Body Works) lines, is using the 1,257-square-foot store at Serramonte Center to test its product lines in this country, according to Louis Wong, Bench store operations manager. He notes that his company is taking a cautious approach, starting on a small scale before deciding if the California market is strong enough to support more locations.

The Daly City store is tiny compared with the retailer's overseas stores, which typically are about 300,000 square feet. “Bench was looking to expand here, and obviously this location was chosen because we have the largest Filipino population in the United States,” says Cherie Napier, marketing manager at Serramonte Center. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 24,027 Daly City residents, or 23 percent of the population, is Filipino. “They had a ready-made market here,” she adds, noting that there is considerable travel between the two locations, so Bench already has brand recognition. She says that many Bench tote bags were seen on the streets of Daly City long before the Serramonte store opening.

Bench is often compared with U.S.-based chains that target teen and 20-something shoppers, offering similar clothing styles as the Gap, Old Navy and Abercrombie & Fitch, but at a lower price point. For example, Bench T-shirts cost $9.99 to $12.99 and jeans $19.99 to $29.99. The retailer's marketing is clearly Filipino-focused, using store displays and life-like mannequins of Filipino celebrities seductively posed in Bench clothing. “We're still testing the market here,” Wong says. “But I'm sure we'll be expanding in the Bay Area.” He suggests, however, that Bench plans to expand to markets across the United States and is positioning itself internationally to compete with Gap, Old Navy, and other brands.

The Bench store at Serramonte Center opened last July, drawing about 4,000 people to the celebratory event, which included a visit by Kris Aquino, a Bench model and daughter of former Philippines president, Corazon Aquino. Napier says, “This store is doing very well,” Napier says. “We know they're hoping to expand — that's their vision — but the time frame is still unknown.”