Levi Strauss & Co. — founded in the Gold Rush, and now living through another boom in Silicon Valley — also straddles past and future in its revamped SoHo store in Manhattan.
The unit at 495 Broadway pulls together a number of new initiatives — from a cache of retro jeans to next-generation fitting rooms — and will be officially relaunched with a party tonight.
One of the centerpieces is the Levi’s Authorized Vintage line, made possible by the recent purchase of a private collection of 50,000 vintage Levi’s pieces, which chief executive officer Chip Bergh revealed at the WWD CEO Summit last month.
Levi’s bought the pieces from collector Jeff Fuller, who approached the company at the MAGIC trade show. The pieces, many of which come from the Eighties and Nineties, have been authenticated, cleaned and in some cases repaired and updated, sometimes with a more modern fit. Prices range from $198 for a pair of original 501s to $268 for a Sherpa Trucker.
Each season, the brand plans work with a handful of designers, who put their own stamp on pieces from the collection. The current crop includes Vetements, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, Diane von Furstenberg, X Karla’s Karla Welch and Ovadia & Sons.
At the SoHo store, the new vintage section sits directly across from the Tailor Shop, which offers a slate of routine adjustments — same-day hemming is free with purchase — as well as more intricate customizations.
The idea is to let customers finish the look that the brand started and is a nod to the trend toward personalization that has more shoppers, and particularly Millennials, wanting to take part in the design process. Levi’s has had tailor shops in its European stores for some time that have proven to be a big draw.
While that’s an example of something that’s been imported to the SoHo store, many other updates to the location will be filtering out to the company’s 700 owned stores as well as 2,900 doors that are operated by partners.
SoHo is the test case, where all the elements come together. Still, Carrie Ask, executive vice president and president of global retail, said the store represents just one stop on a longer journey. “We’re about halfway with SoHo,” Ask said. “We’re really just getting started.”
Amid a general slowdown in store traffic, Ask said Levi’s research showed that just over half of the shoppers coming into the brand’s stores were looking to buy.
That has the brand focusing all the more on helping customers find the right fit and right size while making the fitting room experience easier and buying more flexible with a mobile point-of-sale system.
“The fitting room experience should be the pinnacle experience in the store,” Ask said. “If you’ve made the decision to invest in getting back to the fitting room, that should be the absolutely best experience you can get in the store.”
And so the fitting rooms have a call button for assistance, three-quarter-length doors that provide privacy and allow associates to easily hand shoppers looks, places to charge one’s phone, water to drink and more.
“We used to think of consumer journeys as controllable and linear, so you start at the front of the store and we’re going to control your experience,” Ask said of retail generally. “Now you can’t do that anymore. The consumer can jump into any part of the experience on their phone.”
This makes seeing how something fits — a uniquely off-line experience — a central part of the store experience.
Ask said Levi’s survey of people who left their stores without buying anything found the number-one reason they didn’t was because they couldn’t find their size or color, even when the right looks actually were in stock.
And so, the Levi’s SoHo store is using RFID, which helps the store accurately track its inventory, make sure the floor is up to date and the right looks are found.
All of this shows how Levi’s — now feeling some strength with net revenues up 6 percent to $3.4 billion so far this year — is pushing forward, grabbing hold of some of the central themes in retail, from personalization to experience.
And it seems to be the center of the sweet spot of Levi’s, the everyman brand.
“There have been times and brands that chase the edge of culture,” said Jen Sey, chief marketing officer of the Levi’s brand. “We’re not at our best when we do that.”
Instead, Sey said the brand sparkles when it puts itself at the center of culture — the brand was the subject of a “Saturday Night Life” spoof recently and the company loved it. Being spoofed by SNL shows people are paying attention.
The brand has also put its name on a stadium in San Francisco and linked multiple times with the skate brand Supreme — including on snakeskin-printed items dropping this week.