By and  on April 10, 2007

To resonate with Aéropostale's core teen shoppers, a new prototype store aims to elevate the customer's shopping experience with innovative store design and marketing and by offering trend-right fashion.

"We want to show that we have more levels than just price and promotions," said Julian Geiger, chief executive officer.

The company plans to convert 18 existing stores in 2007, and to renovate 40 percent of its stores to the new prototype within three years.

To attract a new breed of teens who want to shop in an exciting store environment, management is upgrading fixtures and adding unique features to the current "white box."

"If you have a cheap box and you have cheap product, you just become cheap," said Michael Cunningham, chief financial officer.

The prototype includes updated merchandise displays, a backlit graphic at the cash register, more anatomically correct mannequins and lifestyle images throughout the store.

"In our current white box, there is nothing to break the eye. The new stores embody a sense of discovery," Cunningham said.

Fitting rooms are located at the back of the store in an area designed to be a social hangout for teens, their friends and their moms. One attention-grabbing feature is the see-through doors of the fitting rooms that smoke over when a customer steps inside.

The fitting area, decorated with bamboo, has seating, and displays footwear and loungewear.

"This is what we should have looked like if we had the money to invest in the brand when we had no money," Geiger said.

Besides designing a lifestyle environment, Aéropostale is creating new ways to reach out to its 14- to 17-year-old customers.

"In order to connect with kids on an emotional level, we have adopted a 360-degree approach to the way we communicate," said Scott Birnbaum, senior vice president of marketing.

Over the past two months Aéropostale has joined with marketing partners Seventeen Magazine and alternative band Fall Out Boy to offer exclusive merchandise and contests. "When customers bought the Fall Out Boy CD at Aéropostale, they received an exclusive T-shirt," Birnbaum said. "We sold over 40,000 CDs, representing 10 percent of all of the Fall Out Boy CDs sold."This month, the retailer is working with LG Electronics to give away a free Chocolate Phone to customers who spend $50 or more at Aéropostale.

"As Aéropostale turns 21, the legal drinking age, it is coming of age as a brand," Geiger said. "We are becoming cooler, more fashion-oriented, with some attitude and confidence."

And the company is looking to take this hipper image overseas. Aéropostale will open its first 10 stores in Canada this year, and has the potential to grow to 80 or 90 stores.

The retailer is also discussing other "possible international expansions" for 2008 and 2009. But management said the most important thing was translating a laid-back, fun-loving office culture into the brand.

"We view our corporate culture as an important part of our brand and who we are," Geiger said. "Of course, we are interesting in performing well, but we want to do so with soul and heart."

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