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Lofty Times for Ann Taylor

It was opening day for the Loft flagship, by far the chain's most theatrical and largest location.

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NEW YORK — “We definitely have to keep the music pumped up,” declared Kay Krill, president and chief executive officer of Ann Taylor Stores Corp., as she stood on the expansive split-level selling floor of the new Loft flagship in Times Square last Friday.

There was good reason to be energized. It was opening day for the Loft flagship, by far the chain’s most theatrical and largest location, and the corporation released record results for the third quarter, in what has been a turnaround year.

Third-quarter earnings grew 29.7 percent to $39.3 million, or 54 cents a diluted share, from $30.3 million, or 42 cents a diluted share, in the same period last year. Sales for the quarter rose 10.2 percent to $566.3 million from $514 million.

Comp-store sales overall were up 2.6 percent in the quarter, with the 355-unit Ann Taylor division up 6.1 percent and the 445-unit Loft chain down 0.9 percent.

Based on its third-quarter results, the company raised its guidance for the full year to $2.07 to $2.12 per share from previous estimates of $2.05 to $2.10 per share. For the nine-month period ended Oct. 28, earnings ballooned to $121.5 million, or $1.67 per diluted share, from $54.5 million, or 76 cents per share, on sales that grew 13.3 percent to $1.7 billion from $1.5 billion.

“The third quarter was highlighted by Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Factory and our online business, with each delivering a particularly strong performance,” Krill said in a statement. However, “These results were partially offset by a less than robust quarter at Loft, due primarily to softness in the sweater category. We look forward to continuing to execute our growth strategies and to further building our Ann Taylor, Loft and Ann Taylor Factory brands.”

The new Loft unit in Times Square may help do that. The store is hard to miss, considering it’s 10,000 square feet on 42nd Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, atop a subway station where several lines converge, and 8-foot tall letters spell out Loft in the windows. “This is really the first tourist location we have,” Krill said. “This is a great branding experience.”

This story first appeared in the November 20, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The visuals intensify at night, with the facade’s 90-foot long “ribbon” of 30,000 lights wrapping around the building.

There is more flash inside the store, which is almost twice the size of the average 5,500-square-foot Loft unit and is seen as generating over $900 in sales per square foot, or double the corporation’s average unit, which last year generated $461 in sales per square foot.

The decor is a nod to Broadway, with vintage elements from the Rootstein mannequins in Bob Fosse-inspired poses to some of the original Radio City seats on the selling floor. The fitting room area replicates the backstage of a theater set, and Playbills are displayed under glass tabletops.

Unlike other Loft locations, the flagship actually seems like a loft, with its 24-foot-high ceiling, exposed brick walls and duct work, and tall wood fixtures that resemble bookcases. Certain other fixtures are also unique to the store but might be adapted to future locations, such as a metallic accessory bar that is suspended from the ceiling and resembles a trapeze.

The store also merchandises around columns and has a long 20-foot “runway” fixture in the front, which Krill considers as “a buffet” of apparel, shoes, cold-weather accessories and jewelry, with some outfits displayed as well. The concept is in all Loft stores, but not as elongated.

Loft’s bread and butter categories are relaxed related separates, priced $39 to $59; knit tops from $19 to $39; sweaters at $39 to $69, and pants, $49 to $79. The store also prides itself on providing three-piece outfits for around $200, such as printed chiffon dresses, for $99, that go with a $29 velvet evening clutch, and a $59 velvet wrap, or a black velvet silk blouse, $44, with velvet pants, $89, and a cashmere shrug, $89.

There is a 600-square-foot petite section in the flagship, as well as travel and wardrobe bags, and outerwear, including quilted puffers for $129 and faux shearlings priced at $149, about the highest priced item in the store. The lowest price point is a $15 key chain purse.

The store is right below the company’s own executive offices which opened a year ago. “We weren’t about to let another retailer get under own corporate headquarters,” Krill stated.

Asked how she likes being based in Times Square, she said, “I didn’t think I would love it, but it’s great. It’s very convenient for commuters and we have a cafeteria in our headquarters. There’s a lot of energy.”

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