By  on July 15, 2009

CLIFTON, N.J. — Mandee is pursuing a sensible growth strategy with a new retail prototype set to roll out and expansion that includes Manhattan stores.

Located in a nondescript headquarters here, the Mandelbaum family has built a juniors chain based on up-to-the-minute trends. The principals — Ken Mandelbaum, chairman and chief executive officer; Larry Mandelbaum, chairman emeritus, and Alan Mandelbaum, president of merchandising — have developed an understanding of teenage girls and the slightly older customers who want to dress like them.

Since the debut in May of an 8,100-square-foot flagship here, Mandee has positioned itself as a place where young women would not only want to shop, but also hang out, cultivating a hip persona for the juniors brand. That’s meant holding events at the flagship such as a May performance by actress and singer Kate Voegele of her hit “99 Times” that attracted 300 shoppers. An opening party had New York fashion editors shuttled by limo to the store, where models walked the raised runway and guests used stiletto heels to retrieve gift cards embedded into an M-shaped block of ice.

The 115-unit Mandee is a division of Big M, a privately held, family-owned company that operates Annie Sez and Afaze, a mall-based accessories chain.

Mandee offers popular-priced fast fashion that embraces rather than waters down trends. Apparel is merchandised into themed departments where complete outfits are displayed. There’s Rock the Boat for short shorts and bustiers; Fashionista, updated careerwear, and Across the Universe, jeans, peasant blouses and ethnic jewelry.

There’s also accessories, jewelry, handbags and a self-service shoe area with brands such as Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier and Steve Madden. Mandee sells fragrance and makeup kits and is testing its own line of bath and body products.

“Our customer goes out on weekends so we plan inventory very close,” said Alan Mandelbaum. “We take markdowns and move our inventory. We’re always in an open-to-buy position.”

Merchandise is a mix of private label and branded. A Freeway turquoise cotton maxidress with crochet details was $49.99; a First Kiss maxi halter dress, $29.99, and a color-blocked dress, $49.99. Mandelbaum said the flagship is performing beyond expectations, trending above $400 a square foot.

Mandee is bullish on contests, such as a Black Eyed Peas concert ticket drawing, and the retailer is sponsoring a bikini contest with a $10,000 prize at a local club.

“We’re hooking up with record companies,” said Mandelbaum.

“We just awarded our second Style Star,” added Ken Mandelbaum, referring to a contest where women were invited to send photos of themselves wearing their favorite Mandee outfit. “We’re hoping this girl will perform in the store.”

Even the Web site has had an attitude adjustment. There’s a slightly rebellious tone to the description of Mandee’s typical customer. “Ballsy. Tough. Sensitive,” it says. “A devout reader of Perez [Hilton], addicted to ‘Project Runway’ and always the first to rock an edgy trend or two.”

Designed by Tricarico Architects, the flagship on Route 3 here has columns that light up and change color, oversize graphics, a video wall and fitting rooms with large makeup mirrors and chandeliers. Above the cash wrap is a Mandee logo that can be lighted in different colors.

Two Mandee units in Manhattan, on East 14th Street in Union Square and on Broadway at West 95th Street, “will be brought up to this level,” Ken Mandelbaum said.

The company plans to open three to eight Mandee stores in 2009, possibly “many more,” Alan Mandelbaum said.

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