LERNER FLAUNTS ITS NEW LOOK

Byline: Anne D'Innocenzio

NEW YORK--Under a new management team, Lerner New York, a division of the Limited Inc., unveiled its spruced-up look in its first fashion show Tuesday.
Shown for the press at Bryant Park Grill here, the collection--which highlighted belted sweater vests, zipped-up suit jackets, wrap-and-tie lamb trench coats and funky activewear styles--will hit all 845 Lerner stores starting in July.
The outfits, however, are still in keeping with moderate price points--all retail for $100 or less.
"Some people are under the impression that moderate clothes have to be unattractive, but that is definitely not the case," said Pamela S. Goodman, Lerner's new president and chief executive officer.
When Goodman joined the division in February, she quickly began scrapping what she called its drab designs, which emphasized such colors as pea green and mustard. She had been president of Express, another Limited division.
Goodman was joined by other new members of the Lerner team: Joan Wolf, divisional merchandise manager of outerwear, dresses and accessories, who came from Winkelman's, the Plymouth, Mich.-based department store chain, and Koko Hashim, vice president, fashion, who had been with Lane Bryant, another Limited division. Ellin Saltzman, fashion director at The Limited, was also on hand.
Goodman is counting on the fashion injection to pump up sales, which have been lackluster in recent years. Sales at the Lerner chain fell from $1.2 billion in 1992 to $1.03 billion in 1994. Operating profits declined to $50 million last year from $81 million in 1992.
Goodman pointed out that she's already noticing a reversal. Comparative-store sales this month are expected to hit double-digit increases against the double-digit decreases in the year-ago period, she said.
While Lerner's previously went after a customer in her 20s, the retailer is now targeting 35-to-55-year-old women with updated lifestyle clothes, a merchandise strategy Goodman said will help the company differentiate itself from Express.
As part of Goodman's strategy, the retailer is going after dresses, coats and suits, categories that were dropped a few years ago. Career, which had been de-emphasized in the past, will be played up and is expected to account for 35 percent of sales this fall. Knit dressing, which includes oversized cardigans and belted vests, will also be a key category.
Under Goodman's stewardship, the retailer is also adopting a strong brand strategy program. Next month, it will phase out its one label, New York Style--which covered everything--and will market its lines under new niche brands.
Activewear, a new program, will be marketed under NY & Co.; Lerner's basic line of sportswear, dresses and outerwear will be under the Metropolitan label; its knitwear line will be called Metro 212, and its more updated collection, which also features its high-end leather designs, will be sold under Metro Collection.
"There are so many opportunities for us," said Goodman, noting that Lerner's is also testing cosmetics and home accessories in several stores. It is also doing a special-order leather program, she added.

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