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Bigger Is Better

While some of their counterparts scale back, a handful of Texas retailers are expanding their reach in the Lone Star State.<br><br><br><br>From Lubbock to Plano, from Austin to Sugar Land, and from one part of Dallas to another, a handful of Texas...

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While some of their counterparts scale back, a handful of Texas retailers are expanding their reach in the Lone Star State.

This story first appeared in the October 10, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

From Lubbock to Plano, from Austin to Sugar Land, and from one part of Dallas to another, a handful of Texas retailers are expanding their apparel empires. They’re opening additional units, entering untapped markets and carving out niches. Given the sluggish economy, these five merchants are behaving boldly. Here, WWD checks in with the bigger-is-better crowd:

JULIAN GOLD

In business for 57 years, Julian Gold sees itself as a rite-of-passage store for daughters, mothers and perhaps even grandmothers. Earlier this year the small chain had the capital idea of entering the thriving Austin market. With headquarters in San Antonio and a second unit in Corpus Christi, Julian Gold in late July unveiled an 11,000-square-foot space amid Austin’s downtown boutiques and hip restaurants at 1214 W. Sixth St.

Julian Gold’s Austin home was found after a seven-year search. Even in today’s economy, the wait was long enough. Besides, Palmer thinks big, with a first-year sales goal of $3 million.

“Sure, it was a big risk,” said store director Cindy Palmer. “But after looking for a location for such a long time, and finding such a great one, the timing seemed to be right.”

She envisions the new store, like the older units, as one where a “mother brings in her daughter, who years later will bring in her own daughter. A teen to a 60-year-old can shop in this store, where customers are treated like guests in our home.”

“It’s a hip area,” Palmer said. She described Julian Gold as “an upscale women’s specialty store, with casual sportswear and basic dresses for your old-school conservatives — the Texas alumni crowd.”

Lines include contemporary sportswear by Laundry, Tahari and Three Dot; casual sportswear from David Dart, Eileen Fisher and Sigrid Olsen; bridge labels Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman, Votre Nom and Garfield; and high-end labels such as Escada and St. John.

“I think our designer [lines] and evening gowns from Carmen Marc Valvo set us apart in Austin,” Palmer said. “Also, it’s one-stop shopping, not just for outfits, but for shoes, handbags, accessories and cosmetics.” Handbags are by Kate Spade, Furla and Longchamp, with shoes by Marc Jacobs, Via Spiga, Walter Steiger and Ferragamo. Cosmetics include Estée Lauder, Clinique, La Prairie, Darphin and Paula Dorf. Jewelry counters sparkle with Diane Malouf, Judith Jack and Marquita Masterson.

STUDIO SOHO

Barbara Sledge feels Lubbock women’s pain. That’s why she’s expanding her Studio Soho store to the Panhandle city. “I know the frustration of having to drive five hours or take a plane to Dallas to buy clothes,” said the store’s owner, who opened the original Studio Soho five years ago in her hometown of Midland. “My girlfriends and I used to do that every two months, and I thought, something’s wrong with this picture.”

Similarly, many Texas Tech University coeds have made the two-hour drive from Lubbock to her Midland store. But as of Oct. 1, they began pouring into a Studio Soho of their own, at 8004 Quaker Ave., in the Village Center in affluent southwest Lubbock. The new store is 1,800 square feet, whereas the Midland unit is 2,200 square feet, “but the format is identical,” said Sledge, who offers high-end contemporary fashion. Lubbock women “basically have the same lifestyle as Midland women who love to dress fashionably,’’ she said. “It’s hot most of the year, and girls love to layer, love cardigan sets. And denim is absolutely huge.”

Sledge said other stores already meet Lubbock’s needs for eveningwear, bridge and junior apparel. But Studio Soho is for women between the ages of 19 and 55 who “love to dress fashionably and are more open to a younger attitude as they get older, because they take care of their bodies.”

Lines offered at the store include Maria Bianco Nero, Lix Jeans, ABS Evening and City Lights casual sportswear. On the accessories front, lines include Tresca and Designs by Suzanne.

“People are coming in for fashion,” said Sledge, who grew up in Houston and modeled there before graduating from the University of Texas at Austin and working in the oil industry in Midland. There, she “always dabbled in fashion, modeling for local retailers, and finally thought I’d try this bold experiment.”

Sledge expects first-year sales of $300,000 to $350,000. “If you bring women fashion at a fair price, they’re gonna buy — even in hard times,” she said. “They may buy less, but they won’t stop buying. We’ve certainly lived up to expectations in Midland, and that’s without advertising. But we’ll advertise in Lubbock, because I don’t know the social arena there.”

MAGGIES CLOTHING COMPANY

Maggie Herbert won’t be seeing her Dallas customers at her store in Spring, near Houston, anymore. They’ll be shopping at her new Maggies Clothing Company at Preston Center Plaza in Dallas. There, Herbert offers casual wear with a swiftly changing lineup.

“We don’t buy deep,” said Herbert.”Eighty percent of our customers are repeat because we buy shallow and change it all the time.” Herbet and her husband, Chris Herbert, and son, Marc Flood, own the Dallas and Spring units, as well as home stores located in Spring and Galveston called Maggies and a bedding store in Spring called Bella’s.

Lines the new store carry include Flax Linen, Allen Allen, Softwear, Lynn Ritchie, Fabrizio Gianni and Fibers by Barbara Lesser. “We’re more casual,” Herbert said. “We don’t sell many dresses. Our customers look for day or sportswear that transitions into country club or evening. They’re adding to their designer wardrobe with accent pieces giving them a bit of a trend.”

The 1,500-square-foot Dallas store is similar to Maggies Closet in Spring and Maggies in Galveston, in business for six and 12 years, respectively. Early fall favorites have been Fabrizio Gianni slacks with lace and seamed tops, and Flax loose jackets and ankle pants pared back with lace tops. “We’re also selling a lot of lace under our everyday daytime jackets,” Herbert said.

Business has held steady of late. “Our stores have not seen a great decrease, and we believe it’s because of our price point,” Herbert said. “Most of our items are $150 and under, averaging $100. People continue to buy. I’m not saying we meet all projected sales each month, but we have not seen a decrease.”

With that in mind, she expects $600,000 to $750,000 in sales the first year in Dallas, where the store opened in February. “It’s really surprised us,” Herbert said — so much so that she hopes to add a location north of Dallas next spring.

SPICY II

Patrons of Milan Payne’s new Dallas store probably won’t complain about convenience. Spicy II is just across the street from Southern Methodist University, whose coeds will want to stretch a dollar while expanding their wardrobe.

Located at 6607 Hillcrest Ave. near Snider Plaza, Spicy II is the owner’s second store, following the late 1999 opening of Spicy Couture at the Pavilion Center on Lovers Lane.

With its denim and novelty tops and lower price points, the new store, which opened Aug. 14, “is basically catering to the college student,” said Payne, whose husband manages the high-volume shoe department of Neiman Marcus at nearby NorthPark Center.

Spicy Couture is more for young mothers and professionals. Payne feels the economy has “picked up a little bit and isn’t going to hurt our business.” Besides, she feels younger people “will always shop.”

Lines include Betsey Johnson, Vivienne Tam, Theory, Paper, Denim & Cloth and Deesh. “Spicy Couture is more about collections,” Payne said. “If I buy Betsey Johnson for Spicy Couture, I go deeper. I buy more, whether it’s footwear or dresses. But over at Spicy II, I pick up pieces as novelties.”

Spicy II is 1,500 square feet, slightly smaller than Spicy Couture. Raised in Oklahoma, Payne has lived in Dallas for eight years. She formerly worked in sales at Neiman Marcus, and before that at Nordstrom in Washington, D.C. Spicy II does not sell footwear, and its few accessories aren’t brand-driven. “We have some turquoise and mother of pearl necklaces,” Payne said. “I just pick up from different shows.”

LESTER MELNICK

Executive women in North Texas can add an address to their Palm Pilots: Lester Melnick at The Shops at Legacy on Legacy Drive in northern Plano just down the road from the J.C. Penney headquarters.

Unlike the Lester Melnick store in Fort Worth and its 25,000-square-foot flagship store at Preston Royal in Dallas, the new Plano store is “strictly clothing, with some accessories but no shoes, and it’s for executive women from 25-65,” said Leslie Diers, who is an exec herself. She’s president of the company, owned by and named after her father, who ran the coat department at Dallas’ original downtown Neiman Marcus from 1953 until launching his first store in 1962.

Diers grew up saying she wanted to do “what daddy does,” and she and her father have worked together for 20 years. The duo entered the Plano market 15 years ago with the opening of Leslie’s, a 3,200-square-foot boutique for contemporary clothes. The new 5,000-square-foot store, which opened Aug. 24, is for “more of a Lester Melnick customer,” Diers said, “with pricing up to bridge point.” Its demographic base includes working women who hail from nearby corporate headquarters, including EDS, Frito Lay, Dr Pepper/7-UP and Costco Wholesale. Diers expects first-year sales to be at least $1.5 million.

“We’ll cater to that customer with suits, travel clothes and clothes they can wear to work,” Diers said. “But the area also has many women who don’t work, so we’ll carry casual clothes for them, as well as cocktail and evening.”

Lines the store carry include Yansi Fugel, Garfield and Marks, Exclusively, Misook, Alberto Makali, Fleurette and Victor Costa.

“People are excited we’re going out to Plano with a full-line specialty store,” Diers said. “Women appreciate the service they receive in specialty stores, and we are a classic specialty store that does clientele work. If we have a dress we know a customer will like, we call them. We try to develop our clientele and make this a country club environment.”

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