By  on May 23, 1994

NEW YORK -- Although Takashimaya New York has been in business for little more than a year, it's already been a time of change.

When the specialty retailer, at Fifth Avenue between East 54th and 55th Streets, opened in April 1993, it offered an assortment of fashion accessories, home furnishings and original artwork. Since then, it has introduced new merchandise categories, new attractions such as a restaurant, and -- perhaps most significantly, considering its Japanese roots -- started downplaying its focus on big-name luxury goods and zeroing in on more eclectic offerings.

"I think a lot of stores open their doors and then wait out the first year to see what happens before making any changes," said Corliss Tyler, senior vice president and general merchandise manager. "But in this case, we started reassessing what we were doing almost from the start, and our instincts ended up being correct."

As for overall sales, the store wrapped up the first year on a successful note, slightly exceeding its projected volume of $15 million.

"We were on plan until last September, and then activity kind of froze," Tyler noted. "But traffic really opened up again in November and we had an incredible December."

Second-year volume is projected at between $15 million and $18 million, Tyler said.

From the start, a major thrust of Takashimaya New York's strategy has been blending Japanese culture and philosophy into a Western retail market. This concept shows up in everything from merchandising techniques that emphasize spare and simple esthetics to The Tea Box, an Asian-style tea parlor and restaurant that opened in the basement last fall.

The fifth floor, which originally held a major assortment of prestige accessories, now carries bed, bath and lingerie. The accessories are all on the sixth floor now, a level that began strictly for corporate clients and that carried much of the same sort of merchandise originally sold one level below.

The assortment includes Ferragamo and Ghurka in leather goods and Georg Jensen and Angela Cummings in fine jewelry.

Tyler said that status accessories had been "a core business" in Takashimaya's previous store, a much smaller establishment further south on Fifth Avenue that closed just before the new one opened."But with this store, we found out fairly soon that we didn't need two whole floors of it," Tyler said.

By contrast, the fourth floor, also part of the fashion accessories department, has offered only private label merchandise as well as exclusive and semi-exclusive lines by lesser-known companies since the beginning.

As time goes on, it will be this type of product -- rather than prestige goods -- on which the store will concentrate, Tyler said. Currently, 80 percent of all its fashion accessories are private label or exclusives by smaller designers; the rest is status.

While no vendors have been dropped yet in the consolidation of the fifth and sixth floors, Tyler noted, some will probably be phased out.

This de-emphasis of status labels comes partly as a result of changing Japanese values. Just as prestige names lost much importance coming off the Eighties in this country, younger generations in Japan now are beginning to place less stock in big names and big price tags, she noted.

"So many big retailers rely on brand names, and we're more interested in carving out an identity as a store that takes a distinctive point of view with our merchandise and offers things people can't find everywhere else," Tyler added.

"We've also found that the newer, less-established designers are more flexible in terms of developing exclusive merchandise, which is a key part of our long-term strategic plan."

This will continue to be a big part of the store's focus, in accessories as well as other areas such as lingerie and toiletries, heading into year two, Tyler said. Currently on the agenda, for instance, are plans to launch a signature women's fragrance this year.

Tyler said management is also considering opening an in-store shop on the first floor, in a 300-square-foot open space by the elevator banks.

"Ideally, this would be a swing shop where we would feature a different new designer's work every month," she said. "It would embody the essence of what we, as a merchant, feel is most important."

The store has been under new leadership since last March, when Kenichi Takehara replaced Jiro Shinohara as president. Takehara had been general manager of the parent company's international marketing division. Shinohara, who is executive vice president of Takashimaya America Inc., the U.S. subsidiary, will focus on other operations in this country, including construction and restaurant divisions.The store is owned by Takashimaya Co. Ltd., a Tokyo-based conglomerate that, in its department store division, operates 18 Japanese units. In the year ended Feb. 28, 1993, total retail volume came to $7.5 billion (784.9 billion yen) at current exchange rates. This was a drop of 6.5 percent from the previous year's sales. Overall, Takashimaya Co. Ltd., which also has diversified divisions and affiliates in fields such as import/export, interior design and direct marketing, reported a total 1993 worldwide volume of $12.2 billion (1.28 trillion yen).

In its most recent annual report, Takashimaya identified its store here, the only one it operates in the U.S., as "one of the most important bases in our international business strategy."

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