By  on June 18, 2007

With its mullioned bay windows and cottage-like, white brick facade, the first Talbots store in Acton, Mass., was for years one of the retailer's top performers.

Opened in 1975, store number eight — as it is known internally — enjoyed such a rapport with its preppy suburban customers that executives were hesitant to move or expand it, despite evidence a bigger box could produce a great deal more.

"I can't tell you how many design reviews we had on that store and how long we looked at every option" to expand or relocate, said Michele Mandell, executive vice president of stores for Talbots Inc. and a 24-year company veteran. "We didn't have the right option and were very worried about not disrupting the relationship with the customer by moving the store too far."

They waited more than five years before the right opportunity arose: a new lifestyle center a few miles away that would allow the retailer to open four concepts — Talbots Misses, Woman, Kids and Petites — to create a "superstore" destination. The complex opened in 2003 and remains one of the most successful in the 1,135-store chain.

"We are," Mandell said, "a very methodical company."

She would not specify Acton's revenues, but said Talbots' best stores generate "well in excess" of $10 million annually.

Both continuity and evolution are necessary in retail. In its 60-year history, Talbots has demonstrated both.

They've kept one of the brand's signatures from the earliest days, the red door that graced a 17th-century white clapboard house purchased by founders Nancy and Rudolf Talbot in the seaside town of Hingham, Mass. That red door — in a custom color created for the company by Benjamin Moore — has become the signature of six of seven brand expansion concepts (see Talbots at a Glance on page 8).

There's change, too. The company that turned a quaint house into retail iconography now chooses lifestyle centers, where it can cluster a row of its own stores, as its preferred location. Nearly half of its stores, 44 percent, are in such specialty centers, and 39 percent are in malls. The best Talbots Kids stores are in regional malls, where a stroller can be easily maneuvered. Talbots woman, the plus-size concept, is the fastest-growing business under the brand umbrella.

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