Henri Bendel is branching out, again.
The New York-based specialty store is attempting its second retail rollout. In the last two months, Bendel has planted accessories-based stores in Columbus, Ohio; San Diego, and Boca Raton, Fla. Its fifth and final location, at least for now, opens next week in Aventura, Fla. The stores will have a similar look to the original Fifth Avenue location, where whimsical, festive product is displayed among brown pin-striped walls.
Bendel’s first ventured out in 1996 when the store unveiled a plan for a 50-unit, $500 million chain. But due to poor performance, owner Limited Brands Inc. pulled the plug on the deal two years later, closing five of the store’s then six locations, leaving New York to stand-alone.
But this time is different, contended Bendel’s executives. Instead of re-creating smaller versions of the New York store across the country — complete with apparel, intimates and cosmetics counters — the new Bendel’s outposts are accessories-based and offer Bendel’s branded product exclusively.
“We’ve always been famous for accessories in our store and a little over one year ago we started testing Bendel’s branded accessories in the store and got a great response,” said Ed Bucciarelli, president and chief executive officer of Henri Bendel. “So we thought, what if we tested the concept outside of New York, would our customer still like it? A lot of our traffic is from the core New York girl, but also from tourists and international traffic. And what we learned by opening these stores is that the brand has great equity around it. It’s a big world out there.”
The new accessories stores will offer Bendel’s branded handbags, small leather goods, luggage and jewelry, as well as scarves, gloves and belts. Bucciarelli noted he wanted to “stretch the boundaries” of how the brand defines accessories to also include gifting items, such as iPod docking stations, tea sets, candles and a small sampling of personal care items ranging from perfume to personalized cosmetics.
“We’re focused on selling things that have great emotional content because our brand has great emotional content,” he said.
Buchiarelli declined to specify his financial expectations for the stores, saying only that the units are “hitting their plans,” but he was quick to note the four new stores are not the first on a long list of locations slated for the future, but simply testing sites to gauge the plan’s success.
“We’re excited but it’s important to punctuate that it is a test concept and we are using these stores to learn about our capabilities in doing brand-focused accessories and gifting pieces,” said Bucciarelli, who wouldn’t say whether this could lead to other locations. “We have no grand plan, no roll-out initiatives.”