NEW YORK — Henri Bendel wants in on the denim boom.
The retailer has been working hard over the past year to make sure its customers equate the Fifth Avenue specialty store with premium jeans, allocating more space to the category, stepping up its assortment and running high-profile promotions.
“We would like to have Bendel’s be more top of mind as a premiere destination for denim,” said Teril Turner, the store’s director of marketing.
In-house promotional events centering on key vendors have become increasingly important and denim will continue to be highlighted in elaborate window displays. Bendel’s is currently hosting a denim event, Delicious Housewives, named after the hit series “Desperate Housewives,” from which it takes its fashion cues by pairing jeans with camisoles, sweaters and flirty tops. The event runs through Sunday and features in-house appearances by designers from labels such as Chip & Pepper, Joe’s Jeans, Paper Denim & Cloth, Rock & Republic and Saltworks.
“Within the first week of our Delicious Housewives event, we broke previous sales records,” Turner said. “In one day of the event, we sold more denim than we ever had in one day.”
Turner declined to provide numbers on the store’s denim sales volume. The unit of Columbus, Ohio-based Limited Brands Inc. brought in total sales last year of $45 million, according to filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission.
Currently, the store devotes 1,250 square feet to denim on the second and third floors, more than double what it had a year ago. While the bulk of the offering is on the second floor, Bendel’s is experimenting with denim in other departments.
“We saw there was a trend for a different approach, so we started offering denim on the third floor in our lingerie shop,” said Turner, adding that customers began pairing jeans with silk camisoles from the lingerie department.
In the Denim Shop on the second floor, jeans hang from floor to ceiling and are folded on tables and shelves with the labels’ names prominently displayed. Belts and tops are sprinkled in so customers can put an entire look together.
In addition, Henri Bendel is experimenting with cross-merchandising and increasing the number of denim vendors and the number of styles in stock.
“Last year, we didn’t have more than six to eight brands. This year, we have about 12 to 15,” said Scott Tepper, fashion director and divisional merchandise manager for accessories, apparel and lingerie. “We don’t want to become overassorted, so we probably won’t add more than four or five more labels.”
Retail prices for denim at Henri Bendel range from $178 to $378.
“When it’s the right jean, they’ll pay that price,” Tepper said.
The increase in the number of brands, he said, is due in part to Bendel’s willingness to taking a chance on price point and fashion-forward styles.
“We will increase the number of brands if we feel they have a strong potential for growth,” Tepper said. “At one point, we were breaking the price barrier with Antik denim and we weren’t sure how our customer was going to react, but she reacted very enthusiastically. Now we can go ahead with styles from True Religion and break another barrier.”
The store is now stocking a style of True Religion jeans that sells for $500.
In another effort to secure its spot as a premier denim destination, Bendel’s set up a dedicated staff of jeans sales people it calls the “Denim Dream Team.”
“We talked to our female customers and we learned that the whole process of buying denim has become pretty overwhelming,” said Turner, citing the increased number of washes, silhouettes and styles currently available. “Women are faced with a wall of folded jeans that all look the same. We came up with another level of customer service to help women love their jeans.”
The Dream Team consists of three stylists who specialize in eyeing customers and steering them toward the brand that will best fit their figures.
“People have actually started booking appointments with the Dream Team,” Turner said. “They’re demystifying the whole buying process.”