Lee Launches First Retail Store

Brand seeks to grow at outlets.

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Spurred by the launch of its e-com-merce, Lee Jeans marked a first in its 120-year history last month with the opening of a branded store.

This story first appeared in the August 27, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The iconic denim label, owned by VF Corp. and based in Merriam, Kan., launched a 3,600-square-foot store at The Crossings Premium Outlets in Tannersville, Pa., on July 17.

The impetus for developing a brick-and-mortar unit was a result of knowledge gathered from the Lee.com online store, said Liz Cahill, Lee’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“We launched Lee.com about three years ago, and from that really understood consumers were hungry for a direct experience with the Lee brand and were seeking us out,” she said. “Once we realized that we had that level of trust, the next extension was to look at a brick-and-mortar, but knowing that we have a huge relationship with our retailers. We don’t want to compete — we want to enhance their business.”

Executives found that targeting premium outlets offered several advantages. Outlets have thrived in vacation areas and other locations far removed from densely populated retail hotspots in and near major cities, helping Lee avoid the suggestion its retail concept could cannibalize sales from the label’s wholesale customers.

In addition, Cahill said consumers have changed their attitudes about outlet malls over the last five years, embracing the concept of premium outlets. Brands have welcomed the chance to be surrounded by marquee names such as Polo and Nike, and in the recession, consumers have been lured to outlets in search of the best deals.

“[Tannersville] had more destination-type traffic,” said Cahill, noting its location in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Pocono resort area. “Consumers are going there for the mission of shopping.”

The store’s design and layout are intended to present the full Lee collection, with signage and displays that emphasize Lee’s fit solution for jeans, Cahill said. Within weeks of opening, executives found top volume styles at Lee’s key wholesale retailers were selling just as well at the outlet, but that customers were buying two or three of the same style in different washes and colors. Special sizes also proved to be strong performers.

“Traffic has doubled our initial plans,” she said. “Everything is double digit above plan.”

Lee plans to open three more stores at outlet centers during the first half of 2010.

The brand will host its 14th annual Lee National Denim Day on Oct. 2. Denim Day invites employees of U.S. corporations to make a $5 contribution to aid in the fight against breast cancer in exchange for wearing jeans to work for a day. The program has helped raise $75 million, and Cahill hopes to reach $80 million this year. Lee will donate $5 of every purchase made at The Crossings Outlet store throughout September to the cause.

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