By  on August 18, 2011

The Men’s Wearhouse Inc. has opened the first of its Big & Tall test stores as part of a push into that key segment.

The retailer, which does $300 million in business in extended sizes within its stores already, said earlier this year it would test three freestanding Big & Tall stores in an attempt to capitalize on the rapidly growing market. The retailer has said that sales in extended sizes are running 40 percent higher than its regular-size business.

The three test units are in Houston, New York City and Dallas. The Houston and Manhattan stores are now open, with Dallas expected to follow in a few weeks, according to chief executive officer Doug Ewert.

Since the stores have only been open a few days, Ewert said it’s “too early to describe the performance, but the stores report many very positive comments from customers.”

The competition for the Big & Tall customer is fierce. This spring, J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s new Growth Brands Division unveiled The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co., a sportswear-heavy concept that opened 10 stores this spring. The rollout for the chain is aggressive — plans call for expanding to 100 units by 2013 and triple that number within five years. The biggest player in the business is Casual Male Retail Group Inc., which operates nearly 500 stores, including the new Destination XL superstores, which combine all the company’s concepts: the moderate Casual Male merchandise as well as the more upscale Rochester Big & Tall, along with shoes. Early success from these stores prompted the company to accelerate its opening plans for the concept to 14 to 15 for this year and 20 to 30 next year.

The Men’s Wearhouse Big & Tall units are more heavily skewed to tailored clothing and furnishings than Destination XL or The Foundry, although the stores do offer an assortment of sportswear as well. The New York City store, at 45th Street and Third Avenue, offers suits from Joseph Abboud, Calvin Klein, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, Bostonian, Joseph & Feiss and Pronto Uomo. Joseph & Feiss and Pronto Uomo are private labels. Sportswear is offered from Dockers, Izod, Kenneth Cole, Vintage Speed, Joseph & Feiss and Blue by Pronto Uomo, and there are logo T-shirts for New York sports teams including the Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants. The store also offers shoes, socks, underwear, belts, tie bars and even hangars. There is a separate tuxedo rental area.

According to Ewert, “It’s too early to say what the best-selling categories are, but I think it is safe to assume that tailored clothing will dominate. However, we are able to distort the sportswear selection in these stores well beyond what a typical Men’s Wearhouse store is able to show.”

According to a staff member in the store, suits are offered in-stock up to size 70, shirts through 39-inch sleeves and up to a 64 waist in slacks. Sportswear is carried in sizes up to 6XL.

The store opened without any fanfare, but the company is expecting to do more aggressive advertising after Labor Day.

“As far as marketing, we have some exciting grand-opening events planned for the coming weeks, along with an e-mail campaign that targets our Big & Tall customers who live or work in the vicinity of each of the stores,” Ewert said, adding, “You will also see an increase in the Big & Tall messaging on national TV throughout the fall season.”

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