By  on October 8, 2007

NEW YORK — There’s a new day dawning at Rochester Big & Tall.

The upscale division of Casual Male Retail Group recently unveiled a new store design that it will employ in all its new units. The updated look focuses more on in-store visuals and lifestyle presentations, and hones in on the stores’ more-focused offerings, according to David Levin, CEO of the Massachusetts-based retailer.

“The design came from our own visual and store-design group,” he said. “They traveled around and took pictures of some of the best men’s stores, and got a sense of what direction the market was going. They were inspired by what they saw.”

As a result of this educational experience, the new Rochester stores will feature lighter fixtures, darker woods, less density and prominent dress-shirt walls. Each store will also sport a Polo Ralph Lauren shop. “The old stores have lighter woods and a more-traditional feel,” Levin said. “The new stores will all have Polo shops, similar to a department store, and we will try some other concept shops in the future.”

The new prototype, he noted, is designed to “create more zones of shopping. The old way was to just mix and match shirts and sweaters. It just looked like a lot of ‘stuff.’ Now, we’re focusing on brands such as Joseph Abboud, Zegna, Polo, Nat Nast and Calvin Klein. This is more contemporary and in sync with the brands we’re carrying.”

Casual Male purchased Rochester three years ago and there are currently 26 of the stores in operation around the country. Three stores have opened this year: King of Prussia, Penn., the first to sport the new design, as well as Oakbrook, Ill., and Paramus, N.J.

Levin said plans call for adding three to five Rochester stores a year in the future.

He added that the new store design may be used in “some of the older, more-tired stores, but it’s really for the new stores going forward.

“We’ve always been pleased with the performance,” Levin said of the Rochester stores. “It’s a good complement to Casual Male and helps us draw customers from moderate to luxury.”

Levin said that at Rochester the mix has been tweaked to offer fewer brands, but more of “the key names that drive the business. It’s the same thing we did with Casual Male—we’re putting more emphasis on the successful brands.”

That includes private label, which has been growing steadily since Casual Male acquired the business. “They had virtually no private brands when we bought it,” Levin said. “Now we have both Rochester 1906, which is the classic label, and Castagne, which is our more Italian, updated label.”

Overall, Levin said, private label is now about 10 percent of the mix at the Rochester stores, “and we believe by next fall that it can be 20 percent. We have no long-term goal for how big it can be; we’ll let the customer tell us.”

At the Casual Male stores, he said, 70 percent of the mix is private label “and it continues to grow. It will probably mature at around 80 percent. The customer gets it. It has perceived value to them.” Although Levin doesn’t expect Rochester’s private-brand penetration to expand to that extent, there is room for growth. “If it got to 30 percent, I’d be surprised,” he said. “It’s still a luxury business and the business is driven by that.”

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