Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — In yet another move to spur regular-price selling of its core brands, Liz Claiborne Inc. this week is unveiling to retailers at its showroom a miniature model and drawings of a new in-store presentation that emphasizes outfit merchandising and offers a more user-friendly shopping environment.
The new in-store concept, which is expected to be rolled out starting in late July, is for the company’s better-price sportswear brands — Collection, Lizwear, Lizsport and Liz & Co. The in-store shops, designed by New York-based Desgrippe Gobe, could range in size from as small as 1,000 square feet to well over 8,000 square feet and will be custom-made for each of its accounts, according to Al Shapiro, vice president of corporate marketing. It was based on information gleaned from a comprehensive consumer study, whose data was made available last June.
“What we wanted to do was make the shopping environment more pleasant,” said Shapiro. “What we found from the study was that the woman customer is intimidated by assortments that don’t reflect versatility. She is receptive to outfitting suggestions and wants to be able to browse around.”
He noted that the company expects “to share the costs of installment with stores on an equitable basis, though there is no formula.” He declined to offer a figure, stating that the in-store concept was still in a “conceptual phase.”
The in-store design offers plenty of shopping niches, from dressing tables to shelves, where outfits can be displayed. It can be done with a gateway entrance, and fixtures are in muted woods and polished steel as well as brushed brass and copper.
There are also wooden full-length mirror stands and small glass lamps, as well as sitting areas.
Each of the divisions is marked by a different color and corresponding floral painting. For example, in Lizwear, its denim-driven line, the signage, including the floral paintings, is blue. The new merchandise presentation will be unveiled at a crucial time for Liz Claiborne, which has been undergoing a transformation over the past 18 months spearheaded by president and chief executive officer Paul R. Charron. While the apparel firm has been showing improved profit margins over the past few quarters, industry pundits point out that the crucial test will be the third quarter and beyond. That’s when two powerhouse men’s wear brands and a top designer make their moves into the better-price women’s sportswear arena.
Bernard Chaus’s new licensed Nautica women’s line will hit stores in August, and Tommy Hilfiger is unveiling its casual and denim line for women for fall selling. Meanwhile, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, licensed by Jones Apparel Group, will be launched at retail in July.
“These new competitors, I think, could have an impact on such traditional resources as Claiborne,” said Margaret Whitfield, vice president of Hancock Institutional Equities Securities. The analyst said she hadn’t seen the new shop designs, but said, “Liz’s new idea is all positive. Women do react to a pleasant shopping environment.”
“Liz’s new in-store concept definitely represents a new, more forward approach,” said apparel industry consultant Andrew Jassin, who saw the model on Friday. “The retailer, and consumer, will have an easier time absorbing all their merchandise.”
He added,”It is definitely needed at this time. The men’s wear players coming into the women’s scene are offering new competition that the traditional market hasn’t seen it in a long time.”
“It is absolutely a requirement from the standpoint of Liz controlling its own destiny,” said Jennifer Black Groves, an analyst at Black & Co., the Portland, Ore.-based investment firm, adding that she believes that the presentation will create multiple sales. “The environment is getting more competitive, and the consumer is just shopping where her eyes take her.”

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