NEW YORK — There’s equality of the sexes at Express.
The chain’s prototype, opening today at 7 West 34th Street, makes the shopping easy with illuminated “focal fixtures” that highlight key items and create a clean divide between the men’s wear on the left and the women’s wear on the right.
The gender bender is the “denim lab,” where jeans for both sexes are united in a distinct department located in the rear, framed by an illuminated glass portal and a plank ceiling. There’s also at least three selling associates, designated denim experts, in the lab at any time, and a jeans wall with a “fit menu” to find the right size and cut.
The store’s red-and-white color palette hardly exudes warmth, though it provides a signature look the way red works for Target.
“Our objective is to really take the brand to a more sophisticated level,” said Mary Jo Pile, executive vice president of Express stores, during a tour of the store Wednesday.
The 12,000-square-foot unit, with 10,600 square feet for selling, is set to be among the chain’s most productive units, if not its top-volume unit. Express stores average $470 in sales per square foot, but the 34th Street unit is seen posting two to three times that rate, consistent with other “dual gender” Express stores in Manhattan, located in the nearby Manhattan Mall on Sixth Avenue, on West Broadway in SoHo, and on 58th Street and Lexington Avenue. Conservatively, the 34th Street unit could exceed $10 million in sales in the first year.
Currently, the $2.07 billion Express operates 88 dual-gender stores. Another 100 will be renovated to the format next year. Pile said that ideally, dual-gender stores have about 8,000 square feet. The old women’s-only Express units were about 6,300 square feet, while the men’s-only stores, previously known as Structure, were 3,000 square feet.
In addition to its unique fixturing and emphasis on lighting, the 34th Street unit is rigged with some state-of-the-art technology. There’s a wireless infrastructure to communicate fast with headquarters on sales data, and a traffic counting system from ShopperTrac that links with the NCR cash register system to measure traffic and conversion rates. There’s also “line buster” mobile point-of-sale radio frequency technology so customers can check out or open credit accounts on the store floor without waiting at the cash wrap.Dustin Miles, the design manager for the prototype project, said the illuminated runway platforms for mannequins have also become a signature. “They announce newness and draw you in,” he said. There are two in the store, in the front of the cash wrap and just behind it.
On either side of the first platform are front focal fixtures, which Miles said serve as “way finders” to the men’s and women’s areas, though the store is a simple rectangular shape in which it would be difficult to get lost. There are no rounders, and the mannequins, designed by Goldsmith, have the top half of their heads cut off and are posed with attitude. Express worked with the Canadian architectural firm Yabu Pushelberg to create the prototype.
According to Miles, several but not necessarily all, of the store’s fixturing, such as the lit runway platforms, backlit counters and “the red room,” which highlights holiday and party looks, and some technologies, could be replicated in the 996-unit chain, though the 34th Street store will be monitored to gauge consumer reaction to its visual display and selling concepts.
Though Express has had its ups and downs over the years, long term it’s been among the sturdier specialty performers. The first store opened in 1980 in Water Tower Place in Chicago and the chain has become known for sexy, urban sportswear and edgier denims, though recently, tailored, work-related clothes, including wool pinstripe suitings, priced at $226, and tailored cotton stretch shirts, priced at $40, have been emphasized. The suits include “editor pants” priced at $78 that are slim, slightly low rise and career-oriented. The style was launched last June and has emerged as the chain’s best-selling pant to date. Tailored clothing can be bought as separates.
Other key items this season are the women’s three-quarter sleeve cashmere sweaters, priced at $68, or $58 in a T-shirt; faux fur jackets with suede cuffs, priced at $148, and a silver diamante and lace dress, also at $128. Denims, which range in price from $49.50 in a basic cut to $98 in Italian denim, represent about 20 percent of the sales and the store space.
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