Girls apparel and accessories chain Claire's (NYSE:CLE) has had a pretty good year. However, not every store has pulled its weight -- especially those in its European division, which was singled out in the company's November sales release for lagging the same-store sales growth at the company's domestic operations.

There was a time when this wouldn't have been much of a concern, as Claire's didn't operate overseas before 1996. Now, however, it makes up a significant portion of the company's business. International sales represented 26% of 2002 revenues, up from 23% in 2001 and 19% in 2000. (Claire's fiscal years end in February or late January, so 2002 here refers to the 12 months ended February 2003.) The company doesn't break out European results, but most of its international business -- its Japanese operations are conducted with a 50/50 joint partner -- comes from its more than 650 stores in the U.K. and on the Continent.

Claire's is an interesting company, though most grown-ups probably have little reason to visit its stores. They're mostly based in malls, competing against department stores and apparel retailers such as Gap (NYSE:GPS), Hot Topic (NASDAQ:HOTT), and Too (NYSE:TOO). Each store stocks a huge array of accessories and costume jewelry. Most customers are young women who pay in cash. In short, it's a business that might seem silly to many readers but nevertheless managed more than $1 billion in sales last year.

Slow same-store sales growth at Claire's overseas operations isn't news. It's been slim in recent years -- though it hasn't necessarily been worse than Claire's domestic business. In the year ended February 2002, for example, international "comps" rose 1% while the comparable number fell 3% in North America.

This shouldn't be a major near-term worry if Europe remains profitable, as is expected. The company is planning to take some of the merchandising, service, and marketing initiatives it used in the States (to good effect, given its 7% same-store sales growth year to date) across the pond.

Claire's needs Europe. Back in 1999 the company believed it could have 2,000 European stores, and it's a way off. With the company actually paring back in the U.S. lately, this is a story to watch closely.

Will Claire's succeed in Europe? See what Fools are saying on the Claire's discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at