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J.C. Penney Co. has inked a long-term deal with Aldo USA Inc. to open shop-in-shops selling Aldo’s emerging Call It Spring brand.

This story first appeared in the June 30, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The deal marks another step in Penney’s ongoing efforts to reinvent its selling floors with exclusive brands, fill voids in the merchandising and create more of an updated, modern specialty store experience within its department store walls. Call It Spring will be the most updated line in the shoe assortment.

While Aldo has become ubiquitous, operating 1,500 stores in more than 50 countries, it’s barely scratched the surface with its less expensive and younger Call It Spring line of men’s and women’s shoes and handbags. There are only 25 Call It Spring stores in the U.S. and 300 globally. Another 50 are seen opening in the U.S. in two or three years, according to David Bensadoun, group vice president of Aldo Global Retail. But Penney’s will be the only other retailer in the U.S. selling the line.

Penney’s will launch 350- to 500-square-foot women’s and men’s in-store shops selling a total of more than 300 styles of footwear and handbags. The program will make its debut this fall in Penney’s Manhattan store in Herald Square and will roll out to 100 Penney’s stores and in the spring, as well as to 500 more stores in fall 2011.

Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd, Penney’s chairman and chief executive officer, said Call It Spring brings “high-quality, specialty store styling; a competitive advantage, and a sense of discovery” to Penney’s. The chain also hopes Call It Spring will lift productivity like its other exclusive shops, namely Sephora, I [Heart] Ronson, Allen B. and Olsenboye. MNG by Mango fast-fashion shops and Liz Claiborne also will be launched this fall.

“We are very focused on style authority in the 18- to 35-year-old customer segment,” Ullman said. “We think Aldo is the best [footwear brand] in that age. We contacted them. They were very impressed with Sephora.”

Initially, promotional displays will associate the widely recognized Aldo name with its Call It Spring brand. Shoe boxes also will show both trademarks, but the shoes will only say Call It Spring.

Penney’s Call It Spring shops will be “very clean, white and attractive, with creative round leather seats that don’t take a lot of room but can handle the traffic,” Ullman said. “It will be pretty compact.…Shoes is the most cross-shopped department in the stores. Sephora is second, women’s accessories third.”

Call it Spring targets 15- to 30-year-old consumers with shoes priced from $29.99 to $69.99, and handbags, $25 to $30. Single shoes, not pairs, will be displayed, requiring associates to retrieve merchandise. “We will train all our associates for Call It Spring and have specific associates for the brand,” said Lorraine Hitch, Penney’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager. “One of the most exciting things about this initiative are the price points. They’re really in our sweet spot, in what we call our better price points — not the lowest, not the highest.” Other key shoe brands at Penney’s include Nike, Skechers and Clarks.

“It’s a fast rollout,” added Bensadoun, noting he wasn’t worried about freestanding Call It Spring boutiques competing with Penney’s. “We don’t think we will open in many malls where J.C. Penney has a store. In some strong triple-A malls, it may well be worth it to have both.”

But the Penney’s partnership reduces the urgency to open freestanding shops. “Do we really need more stores in the world?” asked Bensadoun. “Maybe the best thing is to find great retailers and partner with them and find ways to add value for the consumer.” With Aldo and Call It Spring, Bensadoun said, “the comparison we always make is: Aldo is a Zara customer, Call it Spring is an H&M customer. Call It Spring skews a little bit younger and a bit more on trend, whereas Aldo trends a little older and a little trendy.”

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