NEW RETAIL ROUTE FOR LEVI’S

Byline: Mark Tosh, with contributions from James Fallon, London

NEW YORK — As Levi Strauss opens its first totally owned store today, in London — a harbinger of its plans for the U.S. — its American retail partner is expanding its selection to include more than just Levi’s.
The $6 billion San Francisco-based giant, inching closer to opening its own stores in the U.S., says the 10,000-square-foot London store, on Regent Street, is a showcase for new products as well as for new interactive selling techniques that could be a model for future Levi’s units.
That may be sooner than later. Last month, the company revealed that it plans to open 190 of its own stores in the U.S. over the next five years, pending approval from the Federal Trade Commission. When it all begins is still an unanswered question.
Currently, Designs Inc. — a retail management company based in Chestnut Hill, Mass. — has an agreement to operate stores under the Original Levi’s name in the Northeast. But Designs will begin to sell Timberland merchandise shortly, and is looking for other brands — although it has denied that the move is a reaction to Levi’s intention to open its own stores.
The London store is part of a plan to develop Levi’s brand image in Europe, said Janie Ligon, the company’s U.K. general manager.
“As a denim brand leader, we must continue to strengthen our brand, maintain consumer appeal and push back the marketing barriers,” she said. “We are particularly fortunate to be able to devote an entire store to doing just that.”
The store’s focal point will be a “Fit Center” that Levi’s said adds a tailoring touch.
The center’s interactive jeans program has more than 400 styles and is said to enable customers to find a perfect fit within three minutes. Length adjustments are free.
Other features are a display of the 140-year history of the brand, new point-of-sale techniques and a “501 Jeans Bar” with what Levi’s said is the most comprehensive assortment of 501 jeans available, including exclusive and limited-edition products. Levi’s said the store is designed to test new merchandising ideas for its retailers and franchisees.
“It allows us to control the way our brand is projected and provides an ad a day for the brand,” Ligon said.
Designs Inc., which started in 1977 and has been selling Levi’s merchandise ever since, will add Timberland women’s sweaters, dresses, outerwear and tops to six stores in January.
The Timberland introduction is the second big deviation from the Levi’s-only format.
The company is adding private label men’s shirts and sweaters at seven stores, including the six that are rolling out Timberland products. Private label women’s shirts, sweaters and outerwear will be introduced in February or March, said Joel H. Reichman, president and chief operating officer of Designs.
The private label launch had been planned for late October, but deliveries were delayed, Reichman noted.
By adding Timberland and private label merchandise, Designs — which had sales of $204 million in 1993 — hopes to fill some voids in the Levi’s line, particularly in tops.
Reichman said the strategy was not motivated by any concern about its future with Levi’s.
By the end of 1995, Designs expects to add men’s and women’s Timberland products, including footwear, at five to 10 more mall stores.
“It’s something we’ve always loved,” Reichman said of the Timberland brand. “We think it works well with Levi’s.” Designs said about 500 square feet — or 12 percent of the selling area — in each of the six stores would be devoted to Timberland and refurnished with Timberland fixtures and signs.
Timberland’s selling space could be increased, depending on initial sales results, Reichman said.
Designs operates nine Original Levi’s stores, two Dockers shops, 54 Designs stores and 61 outlets.

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