NEW YORK — Milk, orange juice and a new blazer?
That’s what grocery lists will look like in coming months, if Jack Mulqueen gets his way.
For the past 18 months, the Seventh Avenue veteran has been fine-tuning a business plan to sell Jack Mulqueen sportswear in signature shops in supermarkets. Don’t look for the pants and sweaters to be piled up near the produce, though — Mulqueen is looking to carve out about 1,000 square feet for his leased women’s shops, which would offer a range of upper-moderate sportswear beyond the basics typically sold at Wal-Mart.
“We’re taking apparel to where the customer is. We’re not putting it in a store and praying the customer shows up,” Mulqueen said during an interview in his office last week. “In the ’burbs, soccer moms shop in grocery stores 16 to 18 times a month.”
While it may sound far-fetched, selling apparel beside groceries has been standard practice in Europe for more than a decade. Mulqueen and his partner, John Johnnidis, chief operating officer, are impressed by how supermarkets in the U.K. have capitalized on selling clothes, such as Asda’s George line — which is now global, thanks to its parent, Wal-Mart, and has sales of close to $1 billion a year — as well as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Carrefour, the French hypermarket and the world’s second-largest retailer, also sells clothing beside food, toys, beauty products and even sporting goods.
The duo’s business plan calls for 24 stores generating $15 million in the first year and 1,600 stores ringing up $1 billion in sales by the third year. But Johnnidis was quick to note that is subject to change substantially, depending on which companies commit.
They said Stew Leonard’s, the renowned grocery store with annual sales of nearly $300 million, managed to sell 60,000 cashmere sweaters as part of a holiday promotion. For their own efforts, the plan is to start in women’s apparel, with children’s and men’s to follow. Accessories also will be offered and lingerie, bedding, towels and pillows are planned for the future. In line with America’s supersize-it mentality, Mulqueen’s concept shops are designed to be expandable up to 15,000 square feet.
Mulqueen and Johnnidis rattled off statistics supporting their proposal as if the room were filled with investment bankers. In eight hours, the Mulqueen shops can be set up to house 4,500 garments. A manager and two part-time assistants, who will be paid on salary and commission, will man the area to help shoppers. To try to woo shoppers who might not necessarily be thinking about what to wear on a date Friday night, the shops will have two fitting rooms, posters, display tables and signs showing off the merchandise on the sales floor.
With convenience being the big pitch, the shops will have three-dimensional scanning systems to help customers determine their size, which will run from 1 to 6 instead of traditional sizing. Standing in dressing rooms, customers will use a club card to activate scanners that will take into account height, weight and various measurements and then will print out a credit card-size card with the customer’s sizes to keep in her wallet.
Another aim is for customers to not have to empty their wallets. Retail prices for knit separates will be $9.99 to $14.99, sweaters will be $14.99 to $19.99, pants and skirts will range from $19.99 to $29.99, and jackets will be $39.99 to $59.99. Prices are intentionally not rounded up to play off the popularity of promotional pricing without marking down merchandise, Mulqueen said. Four collections will be offered annually, with each having about 55 styles, including chinos, hoodies and button-down shirts. The apparel is aimed at women between the ages of 35 and 55.
Trying on a pair of pants in a supermarket might not sound inviting to some, but Mulqueen insisted time-starved shoppers, especially mothers with young children, will be game. None of the 20 supermarket chains in North America, a group that accounts for 17,000 doors and $300 billion in sales, offers apparel in a disciplined manner, according to a recent Goldman Sachs report.
But supermarkets are struggling to strike back against Wal-Mart, the category’s leader with $138 billion in annual food sales, he said. The chain dwarfs Kroger’s, its closest competitor with $53 billion in food sales.
Meanwhile, department stores have a plethora of better sportswear, including collections from Calvin Klein, Michael Michael Kors and Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mulqueen said.
“I decided I didn’t have the stomach for the markdowns and chargebacks from having all these lines. We see a downward spiral in what department stores are doing. There’s a herd instinct. Everyone goes into the same areas. It’s like going into the Queens Midtown Tunnel at six o’clock on a Friday night in the summer.”
Mulqueen and Johnnidis are speaking with a handful of apparel makers to have them handle sourcing and logistics for the Mulqueen collection. They declined to name the interested parties, but said once one is on board, goods could be in stores as early as September. They believe manufacturers will have to seek out new business opportunities, since makers can only do so much with acquisitions and private labels.