Searle knows it’s time for change.

The retailer’s bankruptcy filing in January forced its executives to change the way they think about their more than 30-year-old Manhattan business. In order to stay afloat in this economy, the company has downsized by closing two of its seven remaining locations — the 68th Street and Madison Avenue and 67th Street and Third Avenue stores both closed last month — lowered its price structure and opened in-store Magaschoni shops.

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We used to thrive with many locations in the city,” said Rick Weinstein, Searle’s director of sales and marketing. “Because of the economy, we have realized that not everything is in our control. The goal right now is to chase the business that is doing well and fight our way back.”

In an effort to reinvigorate the five remaining stores, Weinstein said the company has reconfigured the overall mix of prices — dresses used to sell for between $300 and $500 and now range between $149 and $199 (with the occasional $250 dress mixed in). In addition, the firm has not taken its stock of fall and winter coats (something that has become Searle’s signature) out of the stores just yet. The reasoning for this, Weinstein said, is twofold. First, this will hopefully help the retailer get rid of excess inventory. Second, with the cold spring weather in New York, he said Searle is hoping to be the stop for customers looking to warm up with some new outerwear.

The retailer has also teamed up with knit firm Magaschoni to open shop-in-shops within all five Searle doors. The shops, which display the product around Magaschoni’s own advertising images, are a first for Searle. The full assortment of product, which ranges from $138 for a cashmere tank top to $438 for a cashmere dress, includes a range of both basic sweaters and more fashion-forward jackets, dresses and wraps.

“We have sold Magaschoni in the past, but we never had it in a big way,” said Weinstein. “And we have never displayed a brand in the stores in this way.”

The first shops opened at three Searle doors the first week of April and have since been rolled out to the two other locations. Amanda League, Searle’s buyer, said she has already had a 400-unit reorder hit the sales floors.

“They are able to supply goods very quickly, and the product appeals to such a wide range of customers,” League said.

“This is our glimmer of hope,” Weinstein added. “We have seen customers in the stores who haven’t shopped us for years.”

For Monica Forman, Magaschoni’s president, having such a big presence in Searle gives the brand a larger presence in Manhattan, where the firm doesn’t already have a freestanding store of its own.

“The people at Searle understand the grassroots of Manhattan retailing, so I wanted to support them in any way that we could,” Forman said. “There has been no better time for a partnership like this.”

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