SARA LEE SETS RETAIL ‘LAB’

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Sara Lee Corp. is out to explore new horizons in the innerwear business with a retail venture it calls Bali Studio. Only two stores are planned at this time, the first of which bows on Tuesday.
The project is what Lee Chaden, president and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Intimates, and other company executives call a “laboratory.” Chaden will oversee the program.
The purpose, say Sara Lee executives, is to enhance brand awareness and obtain information that could beef up business at other Sara Lee retail operations, such as its Coach stores. Furthermore, the venture could presage the foundations giant’s entry into other intimate apparel categories such as robes, sleepwear and at-homewear under its established brands. It will also try out a new line of bath and body products called Bali Studio Body Care Collection.
Bali Studio “will enable us to test merchandising techniques and new products in a full-price channel,” said Chaden.
The initial Bali Studio unit is at Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge, N.J.; a second is scheduled to open April 25 at the Mall at Short Hills in Short Hills, N.J. Any expansion will depend on the success of these stores, according to Sara Lee officials, adding that the stores are not being positioned as profit centers. Officials would not cite volume projections.
“All of the intimate apparel and legwear brands manufactured and marketed by Sara Lee worldwide will be sold at the Bali Studio stores,” said Paul Mischinski, president and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Foundations, part of Sara Lee Intimates.
Sara Lee’s intimate apparel brands to be sold at Bali Studio will include: Playtex, Playtex Secrets, Bali, Wonderbra, Hanes Her Way, Just My Size, Champion Jogbra, Cacharel, Dim, Daisyfresh and Rosy. Legwear will include Hanes, Dim and the licensed Donna Karan and Liz Claiborne labels.
Sara Lee will also test ideas in daywear, sleepwear and robes under its well-known labels — Bali and Cacharel, for example — that have been traditionally associated with foundations.
“The concept of Bali Studio is service-intensive. We wanted to create a very pleasant shopping environment,” Mischinski continued. “Research has told us that consumers today are looking for help, assortment and simplified presentation.
“We will be using Bali Studio as a laboratory, to see where we should go, what consumers want from us, and if we will do more business in other areas. It’s really more of an exercise in building brand equity.”
The target customer is 16 and older, he said.
“Our brands have widespread appeal,” said Mischinski, noting that individually the firm’s different lines appeal to different age groups. For example, Bali bras — with their underwire styling — have a younger following than Playtex, whose traditional soft cup styles generally attract a more mature customer.
Regarding the store’s ambience and decor, Erwin Winkler, vice president and general merchandise manager of the Sara Lee Intimates retail operation, described the stores as “very spa-inspired.”
The two units, each 2,300 square feet, will feature natural maple and sea foam-stained maple walls and fixtures with panel inserts of handwoven raffia paper. Light fixtures, doorknobs and handles will be of brushed silver chrome.
Special touches such as call buttons in dressing rooms are part of Sara Lee’s strategy to create a stress-free shopping environment.
“The lighting will be very clean and soft, very much like early morning sunlight,” said Winkler. “A lot of women who have seen the decor said they wished their homes were done this way.”
The stores will also have available leaflets that give information on breast cancer detection. One percent of their first-year sales will be contributed to the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations.