The Wet Seal Inc. is diving deeper into denim, trying a mall retail concept called Blink by Wet Seal and jeans shop-in-shops in its largest new stores.

This story first appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based teen apparel retailer is taking advantage of mall vacancies to grow Blink to about six units by the holiday season, with leases of one year or less. The first store opened July 3 in a 1,600-square-foot space in The Galleria at Tyler in Riverside, Calif.

“Denim is one of the strongest parts of our business, and it is a differentiation factor for us,” Wet Seal chief executive officer Ed Thomas said. “As a result, we decided to do this really with the intent of more marketing than anything else. If we are going to go into a mall and we can’t find the appropriate space within a mall, we would open a Blink just to get the [Wet Seal] name out.”

Blink’s merchandise is 70 percent denim and 30 percent tops and accessories. Wet Seal stores customarily have twice as many tops as bottoms. Blink’s selection includes private-label denim, the main denim sales engine in Wet Seal units, but has a greater representation of outside brands. Its denim brands include Almost Famous, Amethyst, Dollhouse, Jalate, Machine, Paris Blues, Ten25, Vanilla Star, Vigoss, YMI, Zana Di and ZCo. Prices at Blink run from $10 to $40.

“We will do a lot of tests of different brands, different styles, different washes in this concept,” Thomas said. “Depending upon the reads we get, those could be translated to the balance of the Wet Seal chain.”

Thomas wouldn’t discuss sales forecasts for Blink, but said the launch store is meeting expectations.

The cost of building out a Blink unit is “a fraction” of the expense involved in a Wet Seal store, and the company can get a Blink up and running in two to three weeks.

“It could potentially be another growth vehicle for the company,” Thomas said. “We really didn’t go into this with the intention of converting them to permanent stores….What is going to dictate that is the productivity of these concepts.”

Wet Seal plans to incorporate more denim using shop-in-shops with a dozen brands in a few of its roomiest stores. A 6,000-square-foot unit opening today at the Brea Mall in Brea, Calif., has the shop-in-shop, as will a store launching next month in The Shops at Mission Viejo in Mission Viejo, Calif.

Although private label will remain dominant in Wet Seal’s denim assortment, Thomas said the shop-in-shops would give the retailer “the ability to carry a more in-depth presentation. There is a portion of our customer base that is brand driven when it comes to denim. We are hoping to capture some of the customers that normally shop most of those brands carried in department stores and…to capture some of that market share incrementally.”

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