As born-online athletic brand Fabletics turns to the material world for its next phase of growth, it’s reached its own epiphany: Malls aren’t dead.

“I think the conversation about malls are really misunderstood,” said Gregg Throgmartin, president of Fabletics retail. “The third-tier malls are clearly struggling, but the [top-tier] malls are not only surviving but thriving. So what’s great is we get to come into this retail landscape when everybody’s already made their move. That’s a great position.”

Fabletics recently struck deals with General Growth Properties Inc. and Westfield to open its first set of stores — ranging from 1,400 to 2,200 square feet — at the two mall operators’ properties.

Fabletics is being strategic about its real estate moves.

“I’ve seen a lot of retailers go out and do SoHo, Michigan Avenue and The Grove [in Los Angeles] and they really don’t learn how many stores that’s going to allow them to do. We have a nice portion from the East to West coasts and in the middle,” Throgmartin said.

The first six stores are set to open Sept. 3 at The Mall in Columbia, Md. and Bridgewater Commons in Bridgewater, N.J. Those will be followed up Sept. 17 with stores at The Village at Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park, Calif. and Christiana Mall in Newark, Del. The remaining two will be located at the Saint Louis Galleria in St. Louis, Mo. and Kenwood Towne Centre in Cincinnati, Ohio and are set to open Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, respectively.

The company’s not committing to a longer-term store count and, in fact, sees itself in the catbird seat as it rolls out retail.

“What’s great about our business model [is] with traditional retail you have to have a certain number of stores to get leverage,” Throgmartin said. “We’re a national brand already because we sell online and distribute to all across the country….We don’t have the pressure of hitting a certain [store] number to gain operating leverage.”

The stores will not only service an existing customer base already fans of the brand but the goal is to also sell it to a new set of prospective shoppers that perhaps haven’t yet been swayed on the brand’s quality, which Throgmartin called an “interesting challenge and opportunity.”

“[The founders’] goal was to create product as good as anybody on the market but at half the price,” he said. “There’s a lot of customers that don’t think you can achieve [that quality level for that price] so having these physical, retail stores allows hundreds of thousands of customers to walk by and touch and feel these fabrics.”

Fabletics is parent JustFab Inc.’s fastest-growing division and launched men’s earlier this year. El Segundo, Calif.-based JustFab also has a portfolio that includes its flagship property JustFab.com along with ShoeDazzle and FabKids. Companywide sales across all the brands are expected to total $500 million this year.

Fabletics customers can expect a smooth transition from online to off as the company’s doors open in the fall.

There will be mobile checkout and shoppers will also have the ability to make an appointment and buy items online that can be picked up in store.

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