ATLANTA -- "Most of our customers are just like us, in their 30s with jobs and families," says Marie Rexer-Monde, an owner with Ginny Feltus of Rexer-Parkes, a specialty store here.
The two opened the store six years ago, focusing on contemporary merchandise. While they started with lots of sportswear, the dress business has been the growth area. Dresses currently make up about 30 percent of inventory, and Rexer-Monde said they are increasing it to 40 percent.
"We want to become known as the store to come to for dresses," said Feltus.
Rexer-Monde and Feltus expect volume this year to hit $850,000, an increase of 20 percent over last year, with dresses contributing an estimated 40 percent of total sales. A major reason for their success is the mix -- they offer alternatives to dress styles typical to the South. At Rexer-Parkes, you won't find heavy-duty shoulder pads, sequins, dirndl skirts or lots of ruffles.
Instead, the store offers simple, easy looks. Even the little black dress, not a priority at most Southern stores, can be found here. A couple of fall bestsellers tell the story: Cynthia Rowley's long T-shirt style green velvet dress at $160, three of which sold in two weeks, and Vivienne Tam's short sapphire blue cutout tank dress at $172, which sold five in a month.
The 2,300-square-foot store is in Brookwood Square, a small shopping center on Peachtree Road. The space is clean and contemporary, with wrought iron displays, clothes on black hangers and glass cases with velvet backdrops for jewelry.
Inside the store, dresses are displayed the length of both walls and grouped by style, with evening, work and casual looks occupying separate spaces. New merchandise is delivered daily, which keeps customers coming back. "We usually don't buy more than three of a given style," said Rexer-Monde. However, the store will special-order a look.
Lines carried range from Donna Ricco, Karen Kane and Esprit dresses for day to Gillian, Nicole Miller and Kenar for evening. For spring, the mix includes beige linen shifts from Sue Wong, floaty blue floral dresses from ABS and little black slips from Luciano Tempesta."Our customers look for an updated look but not way out, sophisticated but not stiff," explained Rexer-Monde.
"They need dresses for everyday, and then there are events every night in Atlanta," said Feltus.
Their shop has also become popular as a place for bridesmaid dresses, particularly for customers seeking something simple, that can be worn again and isn't too expensive. The store doesn't even stock typical bridesmaid looks.
Last year they did dresses for eight weddings, one with 12 bridesmaids. Nicole Miller and Donna Ricco dresses are the biggest sellers. Once the bride-to-be has bought the bridesmaids' dresses, she is entitled to a 15 percent discount on everything she buys until her wedding day, which encourages her to keep coming in.
Rexer-Monde said sportswear companies that have added dresses to their lines have helped boost the popularity of the category by giving it a more casual dimension than it used to have.
The pair think women find it much easier to wear and accessorize a dress, as opposed to sportswear, which customers often can't visualize unless it's put together. This is one reason most of their mannequins display sportswear looks.
"They [customers] can understand spending $300 on a dress better," said Rexer-Monde.
"In a way, dresses are no-brainers," added Feltus.
The store carries sportswear from Et Vous, Susie Tompkins, Max Studio and Duo E Duo, among others. A section in the back of the store has lingerie, hosiery and daywear. It was added a few years ago to complement all the sheers and crochets in the market. Now they sell Hanro, Only Hearts, On Gossamer and Nicole Miller.
"It makes it so much easier for the customer if she can one-stop shop," said Feltus.
The store stays open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, but is open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers are kept abreast of special events, such as jewelry trunk shows and new lines, with direct mail pieces an average of six times a year. The mailing list has over 3,100 names.Rexer-Parkes has a sister store in Huntington, N.Y. It is owned by Rexer-Monde's mother -- Francine Rexer who started the store with her sister, Margaret Parkes. The New York store carries more designer apparel than the Atlanta namesake.
Rexer-Monde and Feltus said they don't worry a lot about competition.
"We work hard to keep our customers coming here," said Feltus. "When we're out in the market, we really shop for them. If we both see a piece and think of the same customer, we'll buy one in her size."
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