By  on July 5, 2005

NEW YORK — Searle is dressing up its seven stores with more designer labels and extensive remodeling for fall.

After years of wooing women in their twenties and thirties with skimpy, youthful sportswear, the company is trying to win back the older customers it inadvertently alienated.

"Ten years ago, we had a much more mature business," said co-founder Steve Blatt. "We went on this youth program about six or seven years ago, and it worked very well for us. We have that younger customer shining in a number of our stores. But the time has come for us to step out to gain back the women ... who are now in their forties and fifties."

Searle is investing more than $1 million to reconfigure four of its stores with an additional sales floor for new designer labels and more outerwear from its private label, Belfe and Moncler. Diffusion sportswear labels such as M Missoni, Roberto Cavalli's Just Cavalli, Alberta Ferretti Philosophie and Valentino Red are among the additions. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of next month.

The company is converting existing space, such as unused stock rooms, to make additional sales floors. The store at 156 Fifth Avenue will add 7,500 square feet, almost doubling the space. The unit at 635 Madison Avenue will nearly double to about 14,000 square feet. Searle's location at 1035 Madison Avenue, too, will double, adding 2,800 square feet. The store at 1188 Madison Avenue is increasing its square footage by one-third, adding 2,000 square feet.

The expanded stores also will offer sportswear in larger sizes. In recent years, the retailer switched its sizing from 2 to 14 to 0 to 10. "No matter how small the clothing is, they always need it smaller." Blatt said. "Now we are actually pushing in the other direction to try to get back the women we pushed out obnoxiously. We didn't do it deliberately, but the clothing we offered didn't work for that customer."

Another generational difference Searle has noticed is that women in their twenties don't dawdle when shopping. "Most of the time, younger customers run in and run out," Blatt said. "They really don't want to spend a lot of time looking at inventory."

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