Rue 21, retail, fast fashion

Michael Appel, who joined Rue21 two years ago first as chairman, later moving into the role of chief executive officer, is putting a fresh coat of paint on Rue21 — but not straying from its customer.

Literally, a fresh coat of white paint will cover the entirety of the new “style seeker” concept stores, outfitted with 30 to 40 mannequins to appeal to what Rue21 has segmented as two core customer segments via its research: the “frugal fashionista” and the “style seeker.”

Appel said Rue21 is “not interested in changing our customer, rather embracing them,” in a phone interview with WWD. He added, “our customer is in the low-income demographic, seeking great, on-trend fashion at great value.”

Since adding the mannequins to stimulate outfit visualization, the company has seen an immediate uplift in sales.

Uplift in sales and in brand image. The company is celebrating its emergence from the restructuring with the opening of its first style-seeker concept store — which was built from scratch — opening in a Pittsburgh mall on Wednesday. “The New Rue” since the company’s restructuring has focused on upgrading and strengthening of management, technology partners and improved customer experience in-store and online.

Recent tech partnerships include: Kibo, a cloud commerce solution; First Insight, customer-driven assortment solution; Mode.Ai, an AI-driven virtual styling solution, and Klarna, an alternative payments provider for the credit-restrained customer.

Not cutting down store footprint or changing the number of stores, “the store count is right-sized,” at nearly 700 today, compared to 1,200 before the restructuring.

Read More: The Retail Puzzle

While competitors such as Forever21 (with rumors of a looming bankruptcy) and Charlotte Russe (recently liquidated) are trying to find footing amongst a swell of new consumer values, which herald sustainability, individuality and more conscious consumption, the quickness of the fast fashion business model may be slowing.

Appel admits to being “behind the curve” in some aspects, but acknowledges the growing importance of sustainability to the Millennial and Gen Z consumers. But Rue21’s plus-size range allows it to be ahead of the curve for its value-driven, but trend-seeking diverse customer base.

In all the noise, Appel said, “We want to be true to ourselves.” Appel cites the right strategy, right merchandise, right pricing and fun environment as key differentiators that wedge a divide between Rue21 and uncertainties in the industry.

The concept store will include “delineated destinations” with screen-printed T-shirts and footwear as representative of the brand’s strengths. “Our customers see us as fun, young and energetic, and we want our stores to express that,” Appel said.

As for what’s next — by the end of the year, 132 stores will be transformed into the “style seeker” concept store model.

Read More WWD Business News:

Rue21 Readies New Exec Leadership

Rue21 Taps Kibo for Suite of Fulfillment Solutions

Think Tank: How Aging Retail Brands Can Target the Right Customers

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