NEW YORK — While H&M has helped to revolutionize the specialty store approach to fashion with its cheap-chic merchandise scheme, it wasn’t the first to try this tactic.

In 1987, Robert Glick bought the 26-store Midwestern regional closeout chain, Bobby G, and converted it into what is now known as Dots. Two months ago, he reached a milestone: the privately held Solon, Ohio-based retailer, opened its 300th store in the Franklin Square plaza in Bloomfield, N.J., along with a new look and trend-driven concept.

Glick declined to reveal annual volume, but said its stores generate 50 percent higher sales-per-square foot than its competitors. One Price Clothing store, which operates more than 620 stores in the U.S. with a similar format, has annual sales of $250 million. Consistent with that, market sources said Dots has a volume of about $300 million.

"The original concept was to offer trendy clothes for $10 or less and it ran that way into the mid-Nineties," Glick explained. "As time went on, stores like this began to open and there was a lot of the same in the industry."

He said the discount chains expanded and outlet malls flourished, leading the firm to change its concept.

"Also, styles changed with denim becoming more popular and we couldn’t sell jeans for $10 or less," Glick said. "It just couldn’t be done."

Today, Dots offers trendy fashions at $20 or less, with some suede outerwear pieces selling for about $22. The majority of its brands are its own with three private labels — two for sportswear and one intimate apparel. But Deborah Sokoloski, executive vice president and general merchandise manager, said the traditional Dots customer cares more about the look than the label.

"Our customer is somewhere between 15 and 45 years old with a young attitude and moderate income," Sokoloski said. "The most important thing to her is the look."

While Sokoloski and Glick admit that they are "fashion followers" and not leaders, they make sure to offer customers the sharpest price possible. Last spring, the store was all over the hippie look, offering such styles as hip huggers, peasant blouses and fringed handbags.The company has also spent years perfecting its fits. Glick said the store attempts to make every item true to size so that if a woman is a size 6 in one pair of pants, she will be a size 6 in every pair of pants sold at Dots.

"Our size scale must be working, since we are noticing less and less of our customers trying things on," Glick said. "And most of the customers coming into the stores are repeat customers. Our employees have relationships with the customers and know many of them by name when they walk in the door. They trust us and after some research we found that 69 percent of our customers see us as a destination store."

The strategy includes a rapid turnover of product, often on a weekly basis.

"We almost never reorder items," Glick said. "Instead, we evolve the best-selling items into something else. When a trend is big, we showcase it in the stores as a whole look, so the customer can purchase everything to achieve that look."

While H&M and Dots each offer trendy fashions at a low price, he said that even if an H&M opened up right next to a Dots store, it would not matter. Dots, which has stores in 22 states, is still cheaper than H&M. Dots stores average between 4,000 and 6,000 square feet, but according to Glick, more square footage will be added to the more than 50 new stores planned to open in 2003 and 200 more stores planned by 2005.

"We opened 40 stores this year, so we are planning to top that next year," he said.

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