NEW YORK — Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear, the college campus and Midwest mall retailer, has brought the brand to Manhattan as part of a Northeast expansion plan.
The company, which sells casualwear for women, men and children, opened its first New York City store this week at Herald Square’s Manhattan Mall.
“In New York City, you can buy almost anything in the world if you want, [but] in New York, if you want to buy a University of Wisconsin sweatshirt, it’s almost impossible to do,” said Barry Prevor, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Port Washington, N.Y.-based Steve & Barry’s. “I don’t even know where you would buy it. So we’re bringing something special to the city that has never been available before.”
The company liked the location because it is among the most visited areas of the city — 34th Street and Sixth Avenue — which draws tourists because of its proximity to Macy’s and the Empire State Building.
“We’ve had success in 27 states, but we’ve never been in the fashion capital of the United States,” Prevor said. “So it’s just a great opportunity to bring our brand and store experience to many more people that have never had the opportunity to experience it.”
The Manhattan store, on the second floor of the mall, is part of a larger retail roll-out strategy for the firm, which primarily has stores in the Midwest and is looking to grow on the East Coast. It operates 90 stores and expects to have 125 by yearend.
The 27,000-square-foot Manhattan Mall store is about half the size of the company’s average unit, although Prevor noted that it’s large by Manhattan standards. The store has a loft-like feel with high ceilings, hardwood floors, wood hangers and satellite TVs playing eight different college games on Saturdays and eight professional games on Sunday.
With every product selling for $9.98 or less, Prevor is adamant the quality matches similar higher-priced, brand-name product. The company said it achieves its low prices by sourcing from all over the world, choosing wisely on rent expense and relying on word-of-mouth advertising. It manufactures product in more than 25 countries, and uses fabrics such as cotton-polyester blends and nylon.
“The goal hasn’t been to make the cheapest sweatshirt at the cheapest price,” Prevor said. “The reality is that we run a very tight ship and we keep all our costs extremely low.” He added that annual sales at Steve & Barry’s have roughly doubled in each of the past two years. “Our stores do very high volume and we can work on a very small margin compared to other specialty retailers.”
The company declined to give sales information, but industry estimates put annual company sales at $500 million to $700 million.
While its roots are in selling T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing college and university athletic team logos, Steve & Barry’s has evolved into a broader offering, including down jackets, cargo pants, woven tops, footwear, polos and sweaters all for less than $10. Prevor estimated that less than one-third of Steve & Barry’s merchandise bears college logos. Still, the company has an assortment of more than 1,000 different college and university logo T-shirts and some 300 logo sweatshirts, and it plans to offer 1,100 new items in the spring.
The stores have a similar feel to Old Navy. But Prevor said it’s the price that sets it apart. During a store tour on Tuesday he said, “If it’s not $9.98 or less, it’s just another store.”
With six other units in the New York area, including the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, N.Y., and Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, N.J., Steve & Barry’s appears on its way to growing in the Northeast. The company’s largest concentration of stores is in Michigan, Ohio and Texas.
Prevor and co-ceo Steve Shore began selling T-shirts at local flea markets 25 years ago during summer vacations on Long Island. The company opened its first store in 1985 at the University of Pennsylvania, where Prevor went to college. Once successful, Steve & Barry’s continued to open stores on college campuses, and its store-opening strategy evolved in 1998 when the first mall-based store opened in Auburn Hills, Mich.
As for the future, the entrepreneurs already have designated where they could place Steve & Barry’s stores across the U.S. and Prevor said they could eventually reach more than 5,000 locations.