EXIT SHOPS STRATEGY: SELLING A TOTAL LOOK

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MIAMI--From the constantly changing themed vignettes to the clothes that hang in perfect order with the Exit label facing front, meticulous merchandising is the strength of Exit Shops.
Owned by Ruben and Gladys Matz, the firm, consisting of five Exit shops and five Exit in White shops, began 29 years ago with one storefront, on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, selling blouses for $1.99. It provides reassuring evidence that an independent retailer with merchandising panache can still hew to a steady growth path. The privately owned company is targeting a volume of about $10 million this year.
In essence, the stores are geared to multiple sales. "Every outfit is put together down to the purse and the earrings," explained Gladys Matz. "It's very easy to put a solid outfit together, but the key is to educate our customers and go beyond that."
Ruben Matz runs the financial side of the business while Gladys does the buying and manages the stores. The shops under the Exit name focus on career-oriented merchandise, but also carry sportswear and eveningwear. Most merchandise is in the bridge price range and the store label predominates, although some lines carry duo labels, such as Ellen Tracy. An average jacket is priced at $250 and most tops hit about $70.
At Exit in White, casual looks, romantic dresses and career looks fill the store, which concentrates on shades of white, plus gold. There's also a mix of accessories and a selection of gift items. The store has a much broader price range because it is item-driven. Gladys Matz said she feels the idea of a white store works for Florida.
The Exit stores average 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, while the white shops run 750 to 1,000 square feet. There is one of each in five Florida malls, including two in Miami--Dadeland and The Falls--and Bal Harbour, Town Center Mall at Boca Raton and Waterside Shops in Naples. The Matzes employ four merchandisers who travel from store to store each week to keep them perfect. Gladys Matz also visits each store every week.
"I'm fanatical about display. To me a T-stand is a silent salesperson; it has to look beautiful," she said.
The windows are changed once a month, and every six weeks the stores are completely done over. After an overhaul she holds a employee meeting and store walk-through, and goes over new merchandise with her staff.
She said she mainly shops New York, Los Angeles and Europe and noted the most important thing for her to remember is the diversity in Miami: "This city is many different customers."
The main customer is the local woman who comes in once a week to see what's new in the store, said Ruben Matz. The vacationing Latin American customer is also important, he said. "She comes in maybe once or twice a year and buys an entire wardrobe, and buys things for her family and friends," he said. "She's the icing on the cake."
Sales increases are dramatic during vacation periods like Christmas and Easter, he said. While the store doesn't buy specifically for the Latin American customer, he said, the Exit Shops focus on color, important to Latin American women as well as Florida women.
Gladys Matz described Exit's customer as a woman 20 years old and up who wants sophisticated, timeless clothing with a touch of fashion. Exit's customer is very demanding that what she buys be distinctive, so the store stocks no more than one or two of an item in each size.
Blouses are the top-selling item, and the retailers estimated a woman buys three blouses for each pair of trousers she buys. The store has blouses dyed to match and offers six to eight basic solid colors at a time.
"Since we've been around so long, we have long-standing relationships with many manufacturers and they will do special orders and special dying for us," said Gladys Matz.
The Matzes are interested in opening more stores, butthey are particular about location. "It's not just about being in the right mall, it's about having the right neighbors," said Gladys Matz.--Anita Finkelstein

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