By  on September 9, 2005

NEW YORK — Betting that significant growth rates in the men's prestige grooming category are more than a bubble, Saks Fifth Avenue is one of the latest retailers building up a men's grooming area separate from the main beauty floor.

First, Saks created a 1,000-square-foot men's grooming space last fall on the seventh floor of its Fifth Avenue flagship here, a primary location for most of the men's products merchandised there.

Now, the chain has partnered with stylist and barbershop-salon proprietor John Allan Meing to open a 1,500-square-foot concept also in the seventh floor's men's department, a shop inspired by the so-called John Allan's "clubs" on 46th Street and Trinity Place in Manhattan.

"I said, ‘We have to have it,'" Saks' president and chief operating officer Andrew Jennings noted during a recent interview, discussing his reaction during a visit to a John Allan's club. Jennings said he thought: "It's an innovative and unique concept, so let's test it in our flagship store.

"It's the ultimate experience," Jennings said of the planned Saks-John Allan's concept, "an area of discovery where a guy can come and have a complete makeover [including] hair, nails and pedicure in a clubby environment."

The space at Saks, which occupies converted stockroom areas, is set for a soft opening during the third week of September, then for an official unveiling during the second week of October.

The space will feature six chairs, including one located in a private room. A separate treatment room will offer facials and pedicures, and shampoo, conditioning and cutting services will be available.

One highlight of the John Allan's space at Saks will be an 800-square-foot area called the "closet," which will be manned by a store employee amassing apparel from multiple categories, styles and labels for clients while they receive services.

Just don't call it a personal shopper.

"I call it a personal service rather than a personal shopper," said Allan, who typically drops his Meing surname. "Men aren't into personal shoppers."

A database will record customer information, such as measurements and birthdays. "We'll expertly deliver personalized style to our customer," Jennings remarked. "It's a great, natural fit for us."Shoeshine stations will be located near the entrance of the closet. Other highlights of the space will include sectional sofas, a 400-gallon aquarium and coffee and martini bars.

While neither Jennings nor Allan would divulge sales projections, industry sources estimated the John Allan's space at Saks' New York flagship could reach annualized volume of at least $7 million, with services alone accounting for $2 million of that total.

Executives at both companies expect the concept to draw between 1,000 and 1,200 customers.

"We have high hopes for rolling out the concept to other stores," said Jennings. The next opening of a John Allan's space at Saks is planned for the retailer's Chicago store, which could open during the second quarter next year. Also, a West Coast location is said to be in the works, possibly in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Regarding moving men's grooming to the seventh floor nearly a year ago, "It's been hugely successful," Jennings said, "indicating men want to have [it] all in one area." He added that plans call for the merchandising area to be moved adjacent to the new club.

Like Saks, Holt Renfrew in Canada has taken a number of steps to create separate areas dedicated to merchandising men's grooming in its stores and the retailer is close to opening similar John Allan's concepts in three locations.

Allan said that retail concepts are important for the John Allan's business, which sources project could reach $20 million in net sales by the end of 2007 and have 11 freestanding locations in three countries.

"I'm not sure it's a positive for 50 different [men's] brands to be on counter and that's what led me to change my direction from product distribution to these concepts." A John Allan's product line, which includes shaving, hair and skin care items, is expected to reach a wholesale distribution base of 150 to 200 doors by the end of next year.

"It makes sense," said Allan, "to go back to existing doors and to see if we can get deeper into them. The race to 1,000 doors of distribution is not the answer in men's."

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