By  on April 22, 2005

DENVER — Gap stores haven’t been aging well. They’re tired, sterile-looking and generating sluggish sales, but the company sees a rebirth today with the opening of seven prototypes in the Denver area.

The changes are significant. First, there’s a sharper delineation of the genders, including separate entrances into the women’s and men’s departments, both framed in Gap’s signature blue.

For further shopping ease, merchandise is subdivided into a gallery of shops, each roughly 250 to 300 square feet and extending about two thirds of the way through the store. They’re organized by occasion dressing, so for example, there are shops for clothes to wear to work, seasonal accessories, men’s summer weekend “fundamentals,” and premium denims and striped shirts for evenings out. 

Denim is in the rear, occupying about 30 percent of the space, and includes shelving units densely packed with product next to the fitting rooms for quick access by the salesclerks. There is also a long denim table and a seating area, creating a residential atmosphere.

“The art gallery metaphor really carried us. Product is truly the art,” said Christopher Hufnagel, vice president, Gap brand store experience, during an exclusive tour of a prototype in the Park Meadows Mall, in Littleton, Colo., just outside Denver. The remodeled 6,500-square-foot unit devotes 60 percent of the space to women’s, 40 percent to men’s.

Compared with the cold, laminated and wide-open look of current stores, where men’s and women’s tend to bleed together, there’s a warmer, woodsy atmosphere with timeless hickory fixtures, terrazzo marble tile and dark oak floors, and 26 custom-sculpted mannequins in four poses. Like a gallery, it has directed, 8-degree track lighting for controlled illumination on key items and outfits.

A sense of discovery is conveyed, largely through the shops, or alcoves, created by walls, and the variation in the fixturing and displays. Also, sight lines are long enough to enable customers to find the shop they want pretty quickly, and there are far fewer graphics from Gap ad campaigns.

Fitting rooms have carpeting, dimmers, lights to signal associates for help, a lounge area, and chalkboards so associates can write down a customer’s name for a personal touch. Also, the cash wraps have been redesigned with individual work stations for each associate, so they don’t bump into each other scrambling for shopping bags, boxes or telephones. Store managers also are being given more authority on such things as displays and labor scheduling.

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