MARIGAIL MATHIS:THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Byline: GEORGIA LEE
In an ongoing series on successful retailers, WWD takes a look at Marigail Mathis, a chain of five specialty stores in the South, which plans to branch out into Atlanta in fall 1996.
ATLANTA — Marigail Mathis thinks specialty stores are overdue for a rebirth.
“The newness has worn off the mega-mall concept and people are tired of the ‘Gapping’ of America,” said the retailer. “They want individuality, they want to feel and look special again.”
It’s individuality that Mathis offers at the five Marigail Mathis specialty stores she’s opened in the past five years and plans to bring to the sixth store planned for Atlanta next fall.
Mathis said she aims to create an environment that “touches all the pleasure centers” to create a total shopping experience for her 35- to 55-year-old customer.
“Visual displays catch the eye, all natural fabrics appeal to the sense of touch, fun music is played all the time, the store smells of potpourri and candy dishes on the counter are designed to leave the customers with a sweet taste in their mouths,” she said. Other extras include free gift wrapping and delivery and an in-store television to entertain husbands and children.
“We put the special in the specialty store,” she said.
Mathis opened her first store to showcase the Marigail line of denim sportswear, which she launched in 1987. Today, Marigail’s line is carried primarily in the store, with her colored denim jeans, jackets and cotton tops accounting for 30 percent of inventory. Rounding out the mix are better sportswear and career looks from lines such as Adrienne Vittadini, Elliot Lauren, Andrea Jovine and Cynthia Rowley.
“I went into retail because I wanted the power over merchandising my own line,” she said. “But I soon learned that it was easier to carry other people’s lines than to create a new line myself every season.”
Mathis describes her mix as “classic with a contemporary edge,” adding that she buys only things she loves. “If I don’t love it, I can’t romance it and I can’t sell it to my salespeople — so how can I expect them to sell it to my customers?”
Best-selling unique items include specialty coats from Canadian resources Hillary Radley and Linda Lundstrom and a silk-striped Italian waiter’s jacket by My Boyfriend’s Back. Fifteen Linda Lundstrom ski parkas, at $500 each, sold in a three-week period in December.
Mathis said price is not an issue on selected better goods. “We have to instill trust in our customers that the price is fair, based on the value they can see. We can’t buckle under to department stores, who put everything on sale.”
Prices range from $75 to $100 for pants and separates and average $350 for jackets. Accessories account for 20 percent of sales. In addition to hosiery and shoes by Nine West and Amy Jo Gladstone, accessories include unique items, such as sterling silver pieces by Andrea Barnett, Brighton/Leegin belts and handbags by Kenneth Cole and Joan & David.
Everything in the store is for sale, including handpainted furniture by Mathis and oil paintings by her husband Tommy Mathis. Gift items are a growing category, with items such as potpourri by Manuel Canovas, sterling silver ice scoops by Vagabond and ceramic wine toppers by Winetoppers.
The 1,000- and 2,000-square-foot stores are mostly located on streets of shops or strip centers, with two in Memphis, one in Nashville, one in Florence, Ala., and one in Birmingham, Ala. Mathis is currently negotiating to open a 1,200-square-foot location at The Shops of East Cobb, a new center in Atlanta that Memphis-based developers Poag & McEwen plan to open in fall 1996. “There are little-to-no women’s stores in this area,” she said. “I don’t go where other people are already doing the job. I go where I can fill a need.”
Stores have light-colored walls and contemporary fixtures, designed to showcase the clothes. Visual displays center around themes, such as the Great Outdoors. Window displays are changed every other week. Sometimes they’re whimsical, along the lines of the three topiary pigs in the Birmingham store window at Christmas.
Mathis divides shoppers into three types: “Type one wants the anonymity they get behind a buggy at Wal-Mart,” she said. “Type two is happy at department stores, where they get minimal interaction with a ‘clerk.’ Type three wants the total experience of shopping in a special place where they can build a wardrobe with a sales associate. It’s this customer we have to aim for.”
Sales average $300 per square foot, with a 20 percent increase in total sales in 1995 over 1994, Mathis said. Business, which was sluggish during the first half of the year, picked up dramatically in August. “It’s a mystical, unpredictable thing,” she said. “We think people are just tired of stores that all carry the same merchandise. They want to shop for special things in a special environment.”