Most specialty apparel retailers struck a cautious note throughout 2009, and Christopher & Banks was no exception. The women’s clothing chain focused on operating effectiveness, expense controls, inventory management and conservative capital spending as opposed to new store growth, as its core baby-boomer audience held back on discretionary spending.
At the same time, however, Christopher & Banks continued to place additional emphasis on growth opportunities for its plus-sized business, C.J. Banks. The chain debuted a new format: a dual-concept location featuring apparel from its namesake stores and C.J. Banks brand under the same roof. The store, which opened at the lifestyle center Shoppes at Montage, in Moosic, Pa., in July 2009, has two separate entrances, one marked C.J. Banks and the other Christopher & Banks. Designed by Chute Gerdeman Retail, Columbus, Ohio, it offers a relaxed and inviting atmosphere.
In addition to the dual-concept location, Christopher & Banks has introduced edited assortments of its plus-sized merchandise in a test group of some 30 namesake stores to further increase its plus-size market share.
Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson spoke with Christopher & Banks president and CEO Lorna Nagler about the new store concept. Nagler brought a wealth of experience to the company, which she joined in 2007. She previously served as president of Lane Bryant, the plus-size division of Charming Shoppes, from 2004 to 2007. Her background also includes various retail management positions with Kmart Corp.
Where did the idea for the dual-store originate?
The idea really came from our customers. When I arrived at this company, Christopher & Banks and C.J. Banks were looked at as two unique brands. But as we talked to our customers and got into their heads, we realized that the two units were more sister brands than they were unique.
So it was your customers who helped spur the idea for the dual-store concept?
Yes. We got a shout-out from them for a place where women of all sizes could shop together. They told us they wanted to be able to shop with their mother, friend, sister, etc., in one store. And that got me thinking to putting all size ranges and the two brands in the one store.
Did the research turn up anything else of interest?
As we dug deeper, we found there is this ‘forgotten’ woman, who is a missy size on the bottom and a regular or petite size on the top, or vice versa. The dual-store concept lets us take care of this shopper, who isn’t really being serviced by any other specialty retailer, in a way that is more convenient for her.
How does the concept benefit Christopher & Banks?
We stand to benefit from building one management team, having one back-of-store functional area, and all the other enhanced operating efficiencies and increased productivity that go with operating one store instead of two separate ones. For us, the new format is not only more customer-centric, but also creates important efficiencies that we can leverage going forward.
What was the design intent of the new store?
To create a comfortable, inviting and feminine environment that makes the customer feel at home. To that end, for example, special attention was paid to the fitting rooms, which are very attractive. We added a hospitality area outside the fitting rooms where the customer’s friends or family can be comfortable. We also added Internet kiosks, where customers can look at our online offerings either on their own or with assistance.
Why not open the store under one name?
Because as much as the plus-sized customer wants to be able to shop with her friends, she also made it clear that she didn’t want us to take away her store. She wants the name of her brand on the door. I understand where she is coming from. The plus-sized customers don’t have that many places to shop.… Her shopping experience has been marginalized.
Did you have to cut back on merchandise to accommodate the two brands?
The merchandise selection is slightly edited. It’s the best of both brands.
How is the new store doing?
We’re happy with the performance. We think this new concept allows us to grow both of our brands rapidly.
Will there be more dual-concept stores going forward?
Our intention is to open more to validate the concept, but we haven’t made our plans public yet.
What’s your main goal at the moment?
You have to control what you can control, so we’re very focused on the customer experience and delighting her with the right product.