Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Rodier was a French frump.
Now it has some flair.
A year and a half ago, the Paris-based manufacturer and retailer hired a new design team to spruce things up. They brought texture and novelty to a line that consisted mainly of safe sweater sets, staid skirts and stodgy cardigan sweater jackets in primary colors and pastels.
Now there are toggle coats in wool and angora, Yukon cable sweaters, wool tartan zip cardigans, nubby-textured blanket-stitched lambswool pullovers in rich brown and oatmeal and ribbed polo shirts in periwinkle.
While Paris was upgrading the fashion, the privately owned U.S. company hired Kenneth R. Mizel to be its new president and chief executive officer, Mizel, who had been president of He-Ro Group’s retail division, is intent on improving the company’s bottom line as he contemporizes its image.
“We had an image of being a matronly, high-priced designer store,” he said. “We have to get over that.”
Mizel consolidated the financial and merchandising divisions to one location in Ramsey, N.J., and streamlined operations in stores so there is less paperwork, freeing up the staff to concentrate on selling.
The U.S. company will do $20 million in sales this year. Mizel expects a 9 percent same-store sales increase in 1995.
He closed three units, in Woodland Hills, Calif., Eastchester Mall in Scarsdale, N.Y., and Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack, N.J. A larger unit in a better site will be opened at Riverside Square next year.
There are plans to open eight to 10 new stores through 1995, including units in Rockville Center, Md., Westchester Mall in White Plains, Old Orchard in Skokie, Ill., Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ohio, downtown San Francisco and on Madison Avenue between East 63rd and 64th Streets, here.
In addition, Rodier is moving its New York flagship from 575 Fifth Ave. at 47th Street, two blocks north, to 610 Fifth Ave. at Rockefeller Center. Mizel said the new store should be open by spring.
While the new flagship will be comparable in size to the current space — about 1,500 square feet — Mizel believes it will benefit from the additional Rockefeller Center traffic. He projected a 25 percent sales increase in the first year.
Mizel said he plans to open 20 new stores over the next two years to bring Rodier’s total to 50. There are over 600 Rodier stores worldwide, he said.
“The company has had an extremely low profile,” he said. “The philosophy with real estate was to spread out all over the place. Part of the opportunity Rodier has is to increase its presence by not being so spread out. We are trying to open more stores in good markets.”
Mizel considers Rodier’s chief competitors to be Mondi and Jaeger. He said Rodier’s point of difference is that its collection is comprised primarily of knits.
Kasha, Rodier’s signature blend, is a combination of very light wools woven together. It looks like merino wool.
“We’re making it so there are a lot of options, not just suiting looks,” he said. “To some degree, we’re changing our image. People are already responding to what they see in our windows.”
Rodier is showing off its new positioning in a new fall catalog. The company worked with American Express to obtain customer names and has hired a data base marketing company to help it target additional customers.
Mizel described Rodier’s customer as a 35-to 45-year-old working woman.
Prices on the basic Kashas have dropped “a few dollars,” according to Mizel. A ribbed cardigan in Kasha, for example, is $135; a cashmere blend tweed coat sells for $380, and a tartan cardigan in lambswool is $130. There are a five-pocket leather pants for $500 and a wool tartan wrap skirt for $225.
Rodier has been plagued by delivery problems.
Fall merchandise didn’t arrive in stores until mid-October, cutting short the selling season. Mizel said he’d like to expand Rodier’s outlet business if the delivery problems could be resolved.
“The outlets are a real business,” he said. “They get a very sophisticated customer. We’re talking about manufacturing a separate line for the outlet stores. For a business like ours, it’s great for profitability. We need a place to get rid of merchandise.”
The company operates outlet stores in Destin, Fla., and Woodbury, N.Y. Mizel said Rodier is close to signing leases for outlet stores in Sawgrass Mills outside Miami and Secaucus, N.J.

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