The Ascena Retail Group, operator of the Lane Bryant and Catherines chains for special sizes, thinks it can be more significant in the category through its Maurices division.
“I would love to see a third of our business in plus sizes. There’s no reason why it can’t be,” George Goldfarb, president and chief executive officer of the $1.1 billion Maurices chain, told WWD.
Currently 20 percent of Maurices’ volume is generated through plus sizes, but Goldfarb has triggered an “evolution” of the business, intending to grow the category to at least 30 percent of the total business by 2020. “It’s such an underserved market,” Goldfarb said. “There are not a lot of retailers serving sizes 0 to 26. For us, that’s a huge differentiator. The girls in our markets love the fact we are expanding our plus assortment. She is shopping with her girlfriends” who are a regular size. “They all want the same fashion. At our stores, she doesn’t have to go to a different floor. That’s the sweet spot.”
For the past several seasons, strategies for retailing plus sizes have been gaining some momentum, and there is greater acceptance that women of a certain size can be just as sexy and stylish as other women. Plus-size model Ashley Graham landed on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue this year, and she plays Joe Jonas’ love interest in a music video. Lane Bryant keeps adding to its stable of top designers creating plus-size collections, including, most recently, Christian Siriano, and, earlier, Isabel Toledo. And Eloquii, the privately owned, direct-to-consumer plus-size brand, recently obtained a $15 million Series B round of financing to fuel growth. On Monday, Ashley Stewart, another chain for plus sizes, though much smaller in scope than Maurices or Lane Bryant, was acquired by The Invus Group LLC, in partnership with senior management, from affiliates of Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and FirePine Group LLC.
According to NPD, plus sizes represent about 20 percent of the total women’s apparel business in the U.S., which stands at $108 billion. Women ages 18 to 44 account for 37 percent of the plus-size apparel spend.
Maurices, as well as other divisions of Ascena, are eager to devote more resources to plus sizes before too many other retailers catch on. As David Jaffe, Ascena’s president and ceo, said in a recent conference call, “We’re trying to build Lane Bryant’s and Catherines’ market share. And with respect to Dressbarn and Maurices, particularly Maurices…we’re allocating more inventory dollars, more square footage” to plus sizes. “And we’ve seen good response to that product and see that business continuing to grow and gain share, both within the store as well as within the marketplace.”
Reconfiguring space at Maurices stores, which average 5,000 square feet, won’t be a problem, said Goldfarb. Maurices, which was founded in 1931 by E. Maurice Labovitz, in Duluth, Minn., where the company is still based, will open its 1,000th store this fall. Maurices has served the plus-size market for a decade.
“We have plenty of space we can carve out, and we are able to find other efficiencies,” Goldfarb said, which involves converting some nonretail into retail space and bringing in new fixturing. Plus sizes are carried in all Maurices stores except for around a dozen, he said. “The space is the least of my worries. We continue to add more and more product.”
There are many customers who wear plus-size tops and regular-size bottoms, or vice-versa. “Twenty-seven percent is that crossover customer,” Goldfarb said.
“We’ve made plus sizes one of our blue-chip initiatives. It really fits into what we are all about — diversity, being inclusive, ageless styles, flowy and feminine styles.” Denim shorts, denim jeggings, flowy tops are current bestsellers, he said. “It’s not different from what I am seeing on the other side of the business,” Goldfarb added. Plus size and regular size margins are “pretty comparable.”
Maurices, which targets 20- to 40-year-olds in small to mid-size markets around the country, has built up its plus-size assortment online more than in the stores. “She converts a little higher online than regular customers,” Goldfarb said. He also said that plus-size customers interact a lot on social media. “She’s an advocate for other plus customers. But it could also be because she has seen some of the changes we have made to increase our pluses.”
He also said the company “solicits customer feedback extensively — no matter what kind of customer she is.”
Asked if plus sizes could one day spin off into a separate chain, Goldfarb replied, “I would not say it’s on my current road map, but I would not rule out anything.”