By  on July 18, 2005

WELLINGTON, Fla. — Aéropostale Inc. revealed its first Jimmy'Z test store to a group of cautious but optimistic analysts on Tuesday.The new brand has promise, said several of the analysts during a preview of the brand's debut store here at the Mall at Wellington Green. That is, as long as company executives execute the right fashion trends and tweak the brand appropriately as it ages — both of which, Aéropostale executives stressed, are part of the plan for Jimmy'Z."We really are going to use the next six months to test," said Julian Geiger, chairman and president of New York-based Aéropostale, addressing the group at the preview. The Wellington Green Jimmy'Z store, which opened its doors on July 7, is among a group of six test stores that officially opened last week. Other stores are located on the outskirts of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Bloomington, Minn.; two outlets will open in August, and six more stores will open for Christmas, as previously reported.Following the first 14 locations, Geiger said, the company expects to open the next round of Jimmy'Z stores in the third quarter of fiscal 2006. In all, the company expects to open around 800 Jimmy'Z stores eventually.The concept is retro yet modern, and relaxed while being somewhat formal. Jimmy'Z includes an eclectic mix of Hollywood-, West Hollywood- and New York-inspired apparel and accessories and is "a unique blend of opposites, if you will," said Tom Johnson, chief operating officer of Aéropostale. Johnson said despite its blend of celebrity-based styles, the Jimmy'Z concept hopes to attract a wide variety of customers in the 18- to 25 year-old age bracket.For Eric Beder, equity analyst at Brean Murray & Co., Jimmy'Z has to be "the next thing" for Aéropostale. Otherwise, he said, the company, which operates 628 Aéropostale stores, is going to run out of growth opportunities, because its namesake concept should be close to its saturation point in the next two years. The company has said its Aéropostale concept will reach maturity at around 1,000 stores.Gabrielle Kivitz, vice president of equity research at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., thinks that while the Jimmy'Z brand is "trend-relevant," she stressed at the event the store is in a test phase. She thinks the more the Jimmy'Z team can make the store a place where shoppers want to hang out, the more successful the brand will be.The Jimmy'Z stores were in fact designed to be a destination for customers. And already, Sean Forte, manager of the Jimmy'Z store here, noted shoppers' enthusiasm over the store's four fitting rooms, each of which plays a different genre of music — alternative, rock, hip-hop or techno. Frequently, he said, shoppers bring their friends back to the store to check out the fitting rooms. So far, denim and graphic T-shirts are the bestsellers since the store opened, and traffic has been "very positive," according to Forte.Beder thinks the brand's women's loungewear is a strong area, and he also cited Jimmy'Z blouses, which he thinks are differentiated for their color. But he wrote in a subsequent research report that product upgrades will be necessary "to capture the fashion-driven customers looking for more fashion-forward looks."

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