J.McLaughlin has created a flagship that does some justice to the term.

The specialty retailer is experimenting with a 5,500-square-foot format that is five times larger than the average J.McLaughlin unit and presents opportunities for testing new products and categories, and romancing all the merchandise with enhanced visual presentations.

The store, which opened late last year at 1026 Post Road East in Westport, Conn., draws inspiration from the former “street of shops” merchandising concept first seen on the first floor of Henri Bendel on 57th Street in Manhattan until the business relocated to Fifth Avenue. Like the old Bendel’s, J.McLaughlin in Westport is divided into a souklike array of shops, each of which can easily be changed depending on the season, or whatever product the Brooklyn-based J.McLaughlin develops.

“We plan to do a lot of experimentation in Westport,” said Steve Siegler, president and chief executive officer. “The whole spirit of the store is flexibility. You’ll find something to wear to go to the beach, to go sailing, to play golf in, or just to stay home and entertain. We feel the customer is ready for a format where if they come visit consistently, they see something different all the time.”

“When you have a venue like this, you can test new product. As a vertical retailer, we have the capability of trying things,” added Jay McLaughlin, the chief merchandising officer and co-founder of the business with his brother Kevin, the chief creative officer.

While the J.McLaughlin look is synonymous with classic and traditional clothing and accessories, the Westport store is a progressive turn. It’s conducive to lingering and socializing, more so than the older, compact shops. The site originally was a car wash that became a Hay Day gourmet food store, which closed. The exterior has the veneer of a barn and was repainted for a vintage, New England appeal. Inside, the ceilings are exposed and antique furnishings, such as butler trays and workbenches, are used to display the merchandise in unusual ways. However, the character is really defined by the eclectic series of shops that create a sense of discovery and draw shoppers through the space.

“Little things like accessories have their home here. They look more special,” said Jay McLaughlin. “At other locations, chances are accessories are just hung on available space randomly.”

“We treated the space like a gallery, with a little white space between each department, but throughout the interior we pull the eye in by using whimsical colors and displaying the product in a theatrical way with different themed vignettes for each department,” said architect Doug Larson, who has designed many J.McLaughlin stores. For example, the signature Catalina Tee (inspired by silk scarves) is displayed in a shop with wallpaper recreating some of the same prints used for apparel. Paisleys, animal and Fabergé egg prints frame the wall and suggest how the design process begins.

Among the various shops, there’s one for suburban sportswear which is currently transitioning from holiday to wear-now products; an urban area with a modern, clean, toned-down palette compared to the colorful, country club casual style the brand is known for; an equestrian shop with horse-pattern scarves, faux suede jodhpurs and sweater jackets that’s shifting to a nautical shop with stripes, T-shirt dresses and poplins, and a “workshop” including heavier sweaters, corduroys and trapper hats that’s transitioning to a surf shop adorned by old surfboards. There’s also a year-round resort shop, a lounge area with sofas and a fireplace, and enough space for a cafe if the McLaughlins decide to open one.

“This is really a work in progress, but it’s getting to the fine-tuning point pretty quick,” Siegler said. “It will certainly be more productive” than other J.McLaughlin shops. “I can’t speak to dollars per square foot at this time. A full year gives you the complete picture. However, we have a good feeling for it right now based on our initial expectations, which were aggressive.”

Asked if it’s the format for upcoming stores, Siegler replied: “The format changes in all of the stores depending on the space. Some concepts at Westport could be applied to future sites.”

The McLaughlins’ pumped-up store program has been raising speculation about selling the business or seeking outside investment to further the growth. “There’s nothing to report at this time,” said Siegler, who shares in the ownership of the business along with the McLaughlin brothers.

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