NEW YORK — John Wilson, a 24-year veteran who cut his teeth at Vestimenta, Ferragamo and Nordstrom, is putting the finishing touches on a new retail concept.
Deegie’s Carma, an 18,000-square-foot specialty store for 18- to 28-year-old women and men, will make its debut for spring at The Legends at Village West, a 1.2-million-square-foot, open-air lifestyle center in Kansas City, Kan.
The store, which will include a salon and a lounge, is designed to become a hangout destination for customers seeking an alternative to the cramped, mall-based retailers currently targeting this demographic. Deegie’s Carma will boast a curvilinear store design by the renowned Gensler architectural firm, along with attention-grabbing graphics and an eclectic mix of indie labels and cool brands in a variety of categories.
Wilson’s partners in the venture are Carmela Spinelli, former associate chair of the department of fashion design at Parsons The New School of Design, who is serving as Deegie’s chief creative officer, and David Hulshof, an investment banker, strategic growth and financial management executive, who is chief financial officer. The trio, who operate under the name Three Wildcats LLC, are being bankrolled by RED Development LLC — owner of The Legends center — and a deep-pocketed anonymous family who have committed $12 million to $15 million to open the company’s first three stores, according to Wilson.
“This concept has been in development for over two years now,” he said. Wilson, whose most recent position was as a director of Net Worth Solutions Inc., where he focused on mergers and acquisitions in the men’s and luxury markets, said he sees “an absolute void” in the teen market and a marked “absence of new soft-goods concepts.
“We’ve shopped malls and lifestyle centers — they’re all the same. There’s no point of differentiation.”
He added most retail stores targeting the young customer are “all about T-shirts, boardshorts and denim. But we’re going to provide a much more true fashion aesthetic.”
The apparel mix is also far-reaching and will include Chili Peppers, French Connection, WeSC, Original Penguin and Betsey Johnson.
Because of Spinelli’s experience at Parsons, the store is also expected to be an “incubator for up-and-coming design talent. There’s a real opportunity for that here,” she said.
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Of the 18,000 square feet, over 9,000 will be devoted to apparel in a mix that is expected to be about 75 percent women’s and 25 percent men’s. There will be accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, books, candy and gifts, as well as ready-to-wear. The store will also host trunk shows and personal appearances, an unusual marketing tool for young adults. “We’re personalizing it for them,” Spinelli said. “We’ll do events to create buzz and connect the environment and the product.”
Wilson said one of the “differentiators” in the Deegie’s Carma concept is the 1,500-square-foot Club DGC Cafe, where shoppers can order sandwiches or drinks and settle in for a while. “It’s a hangout,” he said. “There are three plasma-screen TVs, and we might add a video game component. We don’t want them to feel rushed.”
The lounge is “dead center” in the store, since the idea is this should be “the heart of the concept.”
The other thing that sets the store apart is the 1,500-square-foot hair and nail salon for women and men. Wilson said it will also sell beauty products.
Wilson and Spinelli said they chose The Legends for the site of their first store because of its location and tenant mix. It boasts 90 stores and restaurants and is surrounded by leading outdoor retailer Cabela’s, Nebraska Furniture Mart, CommunityAmerica Ball Stadium for the Kansas City T-Bones, the Great Wolf Lodge and the NASCAR Kansas Speedway. The mall draws more than 12 million people a year, many of whom drive more than two hours to get there.
Because of the popularity of The Legends, Wilson is projecting sales at Deegie’s Carma to be around $400 per square foot. “It’s aggressive, but based on what the center is doing, we think we can achieve that,” he said.
Looking ahead, Wilson said a second store will open at RED’s other development, The Legends at Sparks Marina, a one-million-plus-square-foot center being built in Sparks, Nev.
“We’ll put another 15,000-square-foot store there in either holiday ’08 or spring ’09,” Wilson said, stressing, however, that Deegie’s Carma is not “exclusively tied to RED. We’ve targeted the next 10 to 15 markets we’d like to explore and we also see opportunity overseas.”
Wilson said there are also plans for a second concept whose niche and identification will be announced in the next 30 to 45 days. That store is expected to open in Leeward, Kan., in spring.