Byline: Kristin Young

SAN FRANCISCO — Brooks Brothers is getting in touch with its feminine side.
Betting that women represent a big growth opportunity, the retailer opened a 16,000-square-foot flagship here with a new store concept that places an emphasis on the women’s category. The store opened at 150 Post Street in the Union Square district.
“We took a different merchandise position. We’re opening up the front door with women’s clothes, which is very different for us,” said Joseph R. Gromek, president and chief executive officer of the men’s wear retailer.
The store was modeled after the Fifth Avenue flagship in New York that opened in May of last year. The sleek, urban design is clean, spare and modern with expansive spaces, well-placed vases of orchids and a glass facade rising two stories.
Walking in the door, one sees little men’s wear. A full range of women’s apparel and accessories dominates the first floor — taking about three-quarters of the space — with knit sweaters, skirts, woven shirts and career suitings. Men’s shirts and ties are toward the back of the floor. The rest of men’s wear, including the traditional suitings and an expanded sportswear collection, is on the second floor.
While mum about first-year projections for the store here, Gromek said he expects it to rank third after the Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue stores in New York. Brooks Brothers recorded sales of $640.7 million for the year ended March 31.
Gromek said he expects women’s apparel and men’s sportswear to account for 50 percent of total sales. Men’s shirts and ties are planned to account for 25 percent of sales, while men’s suitings are expected to generate the remaining 25 percent.
Gromek said the setup has worked well at the Fifth Avenue store in New York. Sales of women’s apparel there currently run about 20 percent, roughly double what the company churns out per store in the women’s category throughout the company’s 81 units in the U.S.
“We expect that to happen here in San Francisco,” said Gromek. “The objective is to ultimately achieve 25 percent of the store’s sales.”
The new concept is part of the company’s push to update itself to effectively compete with other retailers like Gap and Banana Republic. Brooks Brothers will continue to sell traditional items such as career suitings, but the current women’s collection features new shapes for the retailer, including knee-length skirts in stretch fabrics, cashmere sweaters with three-quarter-length sleeves and tie-neck blouses.
“We have to be current fashion, not old fashion,” said Gromek. “We really have to be able to sell product beyond replacement. We have to be able to sell [women] things they don’t necessarily need, but things that they want.”
Steven M. Newman, president of retail, said putting women’s front and center is expected to benefit the men’s side of the business, too.
“We’re counting on women to change the perception of Brooks Brothers,” he said. “We think women shop more, and in picking up something for themselves will see something they might purchase for their significant other.”
The store had a soft opening about a week prior to its official debut. Gromek said early results have given him confidence: Top sellers in the women’s wear category included a silk, three-quarter sleeve mock turtleneck sweater selling at $58; a silk sweater twinset at $136; woven shirts selling for $58; various pants ranging from $88 to $198; and a corduroy skirt at $48.
About 500 people turned out for the opening party on July 11 and helped raise funds for Young Artists at Work, a program of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Brooks Brothers has opened 32 U.S. stores in the last 18 months. It opened its first airport location at LaGuardia in New York last November.
Two more airport locations are slated to open this year in Ohio and in Texas. A flagship in Milan is expected to open next spring. The 180-year-old retailer is a subsidiary of Marks & Spencer in the U.K.

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