WINDS OF CHANGED AT WINDSOR

Byline: Denise Power

NEW YORK — Windsor Fashions is seeking growth on several fronts, whether it’s by growing its store count or grooming a reputation for being first with fashion trends for its style-passionate young customers.
“We’re going to be focusing our efforts on merchandising — being first to market,” said Leon Zekaria, president of the 29-store Los Angeles apparel chain, discussing this year’s game plan.
The family-owned business has carved out a niche in special-occasion dressing for juniors and has a foothold in the prom market.
Among the initiatives planned for this year is the installation of digital cameras in stores and more robust communication systems. Shoppers will be encouraged to try on a dress in front of the in-store cameras and upload the images to the Web so that friends and family can view it from computers at work or at home.
“We are still working on that idea,” Zekaria acknowledged, noting that frame relay network connections failed to provide the speed needed in a cost-effective manner. Windsor plans to put digital subscriber lines in place to alleviate the problem.
He said the ability for friends and family to view dress selections via remote personal computers is especially key for working parents who can’t always accompany their daughters to the store.
“That could close the sale,” he added.
Zekaria said Windsor is pressing to be first to market by getting his buyers closer to the action. “To expedite that, we are relocating our buying offices to the CaliforniaMart. This will allow us to have more collaboration with our vendors, to strengthen those partnerships.”
The CaliforniaMart houses 1,200 showrooms and is considered the largest fashion and textile facility in the country. It’s located in the heart of the fashion district in Los Angeles. Being close to the fashion world is critical, Zekaria noted. “We’re always looking at trends, at what is developing out there, the influences of Europe. You’re often too late if you wait.”
The company is ramping up Internet initiatives with a clear view of its target customer and expansion to new markets.
Plans this year call for opening stores in Hurst, Tex., near Fort Worth; Lakewood, Calif., and Chandler, Ariz.; and relocating an existing store to Brea, Calif. In addition, “we are elevating the importance of the Internet in our company,” Zekaria continued, noting that the company has created a new position, Internet manager, and appointed a fashion-driven executive to head up those efforts.
Knowing the technology is secondary to having style sense, he noted, and this executive is charged with developing new initiatives such as an online bulletin board and a question-and-answer forum with top-flight merchandising savvy being the driver.
Windsor has already delved into some innovative Internet-driven projects, including an in-store, online dress registry kiosk. Unlike other Web-enabled registries, this application is not designed with gift-giving in mind.
Using this kiosk, consumers can register the particular dress they purchased, along with the event at which they’ll be wearing it. With such information readily accessible, other shoppers can spare themselves the horror of selecting the same dress and appearing at the same high school prom as a body double.
A search function enables shoppers to scan the database by specific dress, by high school prom or by state.
The online version of the registry grew out of a manually updated logbook that was maintained at one of Windsor’s stores. The idea behind the logbook spread by word of mouth, said Ike Zekaria, vice president, and soon shoppers were traveling significant distances to take a peek at the book, and to insure they’d secured that “one-of-a-kind” dress for the special event.
“The registry is going awesome,” said Leon Zekaria.

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