Chico’s on Monday night took over Joe’s Pub in Manhattan’s SoHo for an event to announce its re-branding. The evening’s entertainment featured Molly Ringwald warbling gamely in a white lace dress. Known for her teen roles in the films “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink,” Ringwald “is boldly redefining herself as a singer,” said Diane Ellis, Chico’s brand president, who connected the dots by saying that Chico’s is taking bold moves to reinvent the brand.
“I turned 50 years bold in February,” Ringwald told the crowd, adding that Chico’s “seems very in sync with my own life. I’m really happy to talk about the brand. I’m wearing it. It’s very empowering.”
Any re-branding is a delicate exercise. Ellis has to move the label forward without alienating its existing base of older customers. An age positivity campaign — Ellis calls age the last taboo — #HowBoldAreYou encourages women to say how bold (old) they are on social media. Chico’s “target cohort is slightly younger than our base, 48 ‘years bold’ to 54 ‘years bold,’” Ellis said. “Our imagery is now much more diverse. We have different ethnicities, ages, sizes and shapes.
“I made my career helping to reinvigorate iconic brands,” said Ellis, who started in the Chico’s role 16 months ago. “I did that at the Limited and Brooks Brothers.”
As she studied data about Chico’s shoppers and listened to former and existing customers, “There was a lot of confusion and lack of clarity of who the customer really was. When we do research it’s not about a specific age or demographic,” Ellis said. “We learned that our customer lives out loud. She’s very confident. Fifty-seven percent of our customers work, the majority in pink collar careers such as real estate, where they have more flexibility in how they dress.
“We’re interpreting trends more, Ellis said. “We’re taking into account what’s important to her such as sleeve length, elements of stretch, and cold shoulders that aren’t so cold. We’re getting back to prints, patterns and color. It’s fun, Boho and very empowering.”
Ellis said Chico’s is also bringing back a level of quality that was missing from products. “It’s the softness of a fabric and the hand feel of a sweater,” she said. “We didn’t really change our price points. We’re part of a larger organization and we can leverage economies of scale so we’re able to provide better quality products.”
Chico’s has expanded into petites, with plus sizes launching next. Petites has rolled out to more than 200 stores and is available online. The retailer is launching plus sizes up to size 26. “Plus-size customers want to shop where their friends shop,” Ellis said.
The brand is moving into the home category with home decor, tabletop and soft home products. “This summer, we’re starting our foray into footwear, luggage and eyewear,” Ellis said. “Color cosmetics is on our list. We see opportunities in the brand positioning.”
Chico’s has also launched internationally in Canada and Mexico. “The team is looking at international expansion markets,” Ellis said. “The brand resonates on a global level. We’re exploring other channels.”
A new store prototype, the first of its kind, bowed in Coconut Point, Fla. Ellis found that existing stores, which were busy with color and texture, were competing with the collection, so the palate was neutralized to allow products to shine.
“The store has better way-finding and a concierge desk so customers can check in when they arrive at the store,” Ellis said. “Usually, customers have done some browsing online. The concierge is a cultural shift that helps them embrace the omnichannel experience.”
Fitting rooms are equipped with checkout capabilities and associates carry tablets for access to an endless aisle of inventory.
While Chico’s has more product categories, its store size hasn’t changed much from the average 3,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet. However, Ellis said, “We’re exploring other formats. Brick-and-mortar for us is the secret sauce. We’re working hard to digitize that experience.”
Chico’s in the fall will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a heritage collection inspired by styles from the brand’s archive.
The ad campaign will continue for the foreseeable future. “The campaign is not a one and done,” Ellis said. “The reason we went after it is that we want to change the perception of the brand.
“We’re changing attitudes about women and aging. This customer base didn’t have as much of a voice. Our opportunity is to dig into some of the stories,” Ellis said, referring to the #HowBoldAreYou campaign, where women have been posting missives such as, “It’s time to shout it out and remind ourselves to never stop being bolder.”