PARAMUS PARK, N.J. — The Children’s Place has begun showcasing its merchandise in a 4,500-square-foot, color-coded, in-store prototype designed for faster, easier shopping. Considering its value-priced children’s wear, the look is upscale.

The prototype — revealed this month in two U.S. locations and in the chain’s first 17 units in Canada that have been opening since February — reflects efforts to restore investor confidence after a difficult first half, and to raise sales productivity. The 600-unit, Secaucus, N.J.-based retailer is rapidly opening stores and plans to aggressively convert existing units to the format next year.

"We’re moving up the food chain," said Ezra Dabah, chairman and chief executive, during a tour of the prototype opened two weeks ago here in the Paramus Park mall. "Our stores before didn’t have much individuality." The other U.S. prototype also opened about two weeks ago in the upscale Mall at Short Hills, also in New Jersey, indicating the $657 million company feels equally at home bringing the prototype to different demographics and income levels.

By the end of the year, Children’s Place expects 28 units in Canada and eight stores in the U.S. operating under the format. The other U.S. stores will be in San Diego and Westminster, Calif.; Dearborn, Mich.; Springfield, Pa.; Tampa, Fla., and Des Peres, Mo. The company did not specify how many existing stores would be changed over.

"Whenever a lease comes up for renewal, the store will be remodeled," Dabah said.

The Toronto design firm of Yabu Pushelberg, best known for Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany interiors, and the W Hotel in Times Square, created The Children’s Place prototype. While the in-store shop concept has been done before by other retailers, it’s unusual for a box of modest size, with colored walls and arches defining the shops, to pull it off with merchandising clarity. There’s even a sense of spaciousness, with a 10-foot-wide "major driveway" and a secondary five-foot-wide aisle. Both aisle are wide enough for double strollers to pass through.

Aside from the bright colors, the most noticeable feature is the "marketing wall" along the left side of the store, with bold graphics and a sight line down the entire 100-foot stretch of the store. Pink is for girls, sizes 4 to 14; blue is for boys, 4 to 14; lavender designates baby girls, six months to 4T; green is baby boys, six months to 4T, and white is newborn to 12 months. The entrance is on the left side of the storefront so customers enter right by the marketing wall. There are also floor-to-ceiling closets for storage and display, play areas and fixtures in laminate and Plexiglas.Children’s Place primarily competes against GapKids, Gymboree, Old Navy, Target, Sears, J.C. Penney and other department stores.

In the second quarter, the retailer had a net loss of $10.2 million, compared with a net loss of $3.9 million last year. Net sales increased 10 percent to $128.3 million, though comp-store sales fell 9 percent. For the six months, comps fell 10 percent; and net income was $5 million, compared with $8.9 million in the year-ago period, and 80 stores opened.

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