St. John, in the face of retail market realities, is testing a salon-style concept in Kansas it hopes will serve clients with a highly personalized approach to shopping.
The concept, called Kansas City House, is 854 square feet in the 1900 Building, a space built in 1966 to previously serve as the offices and factory for H.D. Lee Jeans. The building, located in the city of Mission Woods, underwent redevelopment in 2014 and now includes an event space, restaurant and offices. St. John’s by-appointment space offers alterations, car service, a one-on-one experience and a place for events.
Some of it, such as the tailoring, reflects elements available at St. John’s more traditional retail formats, of which there are currently 29 operated by the company. Kansas City House takes the service-oriented experience a step further, newly installed chief executive officer Eran Cohen explained.
“There are definitely components [of Kansas City House] that we have tested and that we know are important to our consumer,” Cohen said. “I would call it the tying of all the most important elements of a nuanced and high-touch service together in an environment that is not a traditional retail environment with an engagement that’s not a traditional retail engagement.”
The opening of the House concept is the first major development since Cohen joined the company earlier this year, succeeding former ceo Bruce Fetter. Cohen, who spoke with WWD from his office in Irvine, Calif., where St. John is headquartered, made it clear the House isn’t about testing something that would then supplant the existing fleet of stores.
“I think that as you go forward in today’s retail, there are no either-ors,” he said. “There are just variations of many different things. Quite frankly, while we’re rolling this out and while we’re opening it up, I expect it to evolve. How does digital play into the rollout of the salon and what worked within our hypothesis and what didn’t?…I don’t see us completely taking our chain and changing the full chain. We have many retail stores that are powerful and are very successful, and I don’t imagine that we would change completely over to the salon. Would we adopt best practices? Would we take things that we learned in the salon and apply them? Absolutely, but then we do the same thing from our stores and apply them to the salon. Whatever we learn that benefits the consumer, improves their experiences and creates a pathway that they respond to, we’ll apply that to all of our channels of distribution.”
The company previously operated a store in Kansas City at the Country Club Plaza for nearly two decades, giving it enough of a brand presence and loyal client roster to support testing the House concept in neighboring Mission Woods, Cohen said. The company is already considering additional markets for the concept, but Cohen said it was too soon to know with certainty where the next House would be located.
Clarity on where the business is going would also be too soon to know, with Cohen saying he is still working through creating the broader business plan to present to the board, hinting at a number of possibilities the company could take. “We’re still going through our opportunities and narrowing them down,” he said.