By  on October 10, 2012

Zobha is stretching into retail.

The Kellwood Co.-owned yoga and fitness apparel brand has opened its first store at 30 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley, Calif., the Marin County city where it is headquartered and its founder, Jamie Hanna, lives. The 2,000-square-foot store will serve as a prototype for an ambitious push into retail that is expected to grow Zobha, which has been driven by wholesale and e-commerce operations since Hanna started the brand in 2008, to 50 to 60 stores over the next five years.

“I always insisted that it had to be in my backyard. I’ve done the rounds in the whole Bay Area. I was driving home one day from work, and I saw that the store was available. I just said, ‘I got to have that store.’ It happened pretty quickly,” she said. “Not only is it my hometown — I mean it’s five minutes from my house, five minutes from my office — but this is a great community. It’s so active. It’s kind of exemplary in that way in terms of the consumer that we’re targeting.”

Hanna explained she sold Zobha to Kellwood in July 2011 in large part to tap into the company’s retail expertise. She has worked with Dave Corbin, Kellwood’s vice president of visual merchandising, store design and construction, to develop a store concept for Zobha inspired by industrial, Japanese, modernist and spa architecture. “It is the antithesis of going into a sporting goods store. It has a beautifully curated story that is easy to shop,” he said.

Key focal points of the store concept are the merchandise and brand messaging. Aspirational fitness photos and mannequins based on Christy Turlington’s body in active poses are seen throughout, and Hanna delves into the origins of Zobha in her own words on one wall. A range of woods — there’s poplar, oak and walnut — bring warmth to the space, while the extensive use of black, in addition to purple, Zobha’s signature color, tie it to the brand. With 120 styles mostly assorted by color on display, the intent is to keep the store uncluttered with less merchandise per square foot than competitor Lululemon.

“The things that were really important to me were that it be very clean, very sophisticated, very peaceful, very organized,” said Hanna, adding, “The clothing is really the main event.”

Hanna plans to open three Zobha stores in the Bay Area next year and also cluster stores in other major cities, notably New York and Los Angeles. She anticipates Zobha will introduce international retail in 2014, likely beginning with Hong Kong. Already, 30 percent of Zobha’s sales come from abroad. E-commerce constitutes 30 percent of Zobha’s business and is 90 percent domestic. The remainder is in wholesale, and the brand is available in more than 400 doors, including Neiman Marcus, Exhale and Equinox.

As Zobha ramps up its retail presence, Hanna is adjusting the brand’s wholesale distribution. She is concentrating Zobha’s wholesale expansion to bigger accounts that can effectively communicate the brand’s positioning crossing performance, which is responsible for some 70 to 80 percent of its sales, and lifestyle pieces. In-store Zobha shops are an important component of that approach, and a 700-square-foot one is launching at TrySports in Charlotte, N.C. By next year, Hanna projected Zobha’s wholesale network will spread to 550 to 600 doors.

Zobha is known for tops such as the best-selling Grace tank (Zobha means grace, beauty and brilliance in Sanskrit), and they make up 40 percent of its sales. Bottoms contribute 35 percent. The average price for a top is $68 and for a bottom is $88.90.

Hanna said she and former Kellwood chief executive officer Michael Kramer “completely saw eye-to-eye on the vision for Zobha.” When he departed to become chief operating officer of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. late last year, she admitted it was a difficult period because “there was a lot of inaction.” But Hanna is impressed by Kramer’s successor, Jill Granoff, who has primarily left Zobha to its own devices. Of course, with a track record of annual sales increases of around 40 percent, Zobha has been doing fine without extreme micromanagement. Hanna declined to discuss the brand’s exact revenues.

“For Zobha, she [Granoff] really understands on a macro level what the opportunity is in this category. She really gets the brand and understands the quality of the product,” she said. “When she came to Zobha to meet with us in early June, she saw the product and she just said, ‘Wow, you guys need a store.’ She realized that even Neiman Marcus is only going to carry a certain amount of your product, so to tell the whole story you really need your own platform.”

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