NEW YORK — Searle sees itself caught in a case of mistaken identity.

Widely known for its signature coats, the company’s origins are sportswear and that’s where it’s focusing its future. Searle’s new store at 1296 Third Avenue at East 74th Street in Manhattan plays up sportswear more than any of its other five shops in the neighborhood.

Searle is flaunting its sportswear to shoppers with a 3,875-square-foot space that features a full-length, plate-glass window and more forms, such as the row of six mannequins decked out in various labels in the street-front window.

“We started as a sportswear company and then we made a really good coat,” said Alice Blatt, who owns the firm with her husband, Steve, who is chief designer. “But then everyone pigeonholed us a coat maker.”

The one-floor shop, which opened late last month, still has plenty of outerwear, intentionally placed in the rear of the store. But the focus is on colorful, fresh sportswear, Blatt said. Shin Choi, Helen Wen, Lauren Moffatt and Allen B. are among the 60 labels offered in the store. Lacoste two-toned pink baseball shirts, low-waisted Alvin Valley pants and Searle’s knotted gingham blouse are helping to ring up sales. There are also a few newcomers for spring, including Puma and Jessie Della Femina. T-shirts, knits and shirts are strong categories for spring, as well.

Sportswear comprises 70 percent of Searle’s total sales of about $40 million, with outerwear contributing 30 percent, according to industry estimates. The company will continue to focus on retail, since “wholesale is tough,” Blatt said.

Unlike the other locations, the new store has considerably more natural light, track lighting and wider aisles, features that will be incorporated to any new locations. Having storage space on the same level as the sales floor is a real plus in serving customers quicker, Blatt said. There’s also a central area outside the dressing rooms where shoppers cluster and talk about their options.

“In what everyone says is a bad time, we’re opening up stores,” she said. “One reason our business is so good is because service has to be the best. I will deliver things myself if I need to.”

Although the company is in expansion mode, it has no plans to branch out beyond Manhattan, despite customers’ requests for stores in places like Boston and South Florida. That wouldn’t allow the Blatts to hear firsthand what works for their customers. That’s why they work seven days a week, with the exception of some summer weekends, one of the few times the Upper East Side streets empty out.

“How do you know your customer if you don’t hear for yourself?” she asked.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus