Great Expectations

Destination Maternity Corp. is thinking big. The world’s largest retailer of maternity apparel is bullish on its superstore format, with new locations in Paramus, N.J., and Virginia Beach, Va. The Philadelphia-based company has an estimated 35% to 45% share of the U.S. maternity market.

The two new stores vary in size and have different layouts, as well as some merchandising variations. But both are designed as customer-centric, one-stop shopping resources. And both share a common vision.

“Both stores recognize that for expectant or new mothers, it’s even more important to create an environment that is inviting, personal and can be navigated with ease,” said Ken Nisch, chairman, JGA, Southfield, Mich., which designed the two superstores. “It’s not untypical for the Destination Maternity customer to spend one or two hours in the store. Oftentimes, she doesn’t own any maternity wear and is buying an entire wardrobe. It’s all new to her.”

But fashion is only part of the equation. More than the average apparel shopper, Destination Maternity customers are looking for input and help as to what looks best on them.

“It’s a high-touch sell,” Nisch said.

The new superstores make it easy for customers to take care of all their wardrobing needs by showcasing the retailer’s full breadth of assortment via “lifestyle” zones for work, casual, sleep, intimates and nursing essentials. The zones encourage cross-shopping of all the brands the retailer sells.

“Historically, these categories weren’t brought together by end use,” Nisch added.

Also, both formats have defined areas that highlight the company’s very own Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod brands, with each department identified with subtle differences in materials, colors, accent fixtures and display techniques. Feature walls highlight layette and gifts.

The use of larger in-store imagery, enhanced visuals and displays, updated lighting and new fixtures and tables helps make for a more contemporary environment in both locations. But perhaps the key element is the enhanced fitting rooms, which are about 30% to 40% larger than traditional fitting rooms and temperature friendly, with extra air conditioning.

“Comfort is very critical to this customer,” Nisch added.

In a unique twist, the fitting rooms in both locations are in the center of the space, rather than off by themselves in the rear.

“The placement changes the shopping experience, and helps to reinforce the idea that this is a high-service environment,” Nisch said.

Featuring upholstered seating, accent lighting and mirrors with lighting that can be adjusted to simulate different environments, the fitting rooms have a level of visual merchandising akin to an upscale department store. The same is true for the stores’ mannequins, which are shown in conversation groupings, runway formats or as shelf accents.

Adjacent to the fitting room area is a lounge area with a flat screen TV, comfortable seating and a play space for children. Both locations also have a beauty bar that provides customized skincare consultations.

The materials and color palette is warm, with a soft mix of warm grays and taupe, and accent fixtures in wenge woods and gray tones. The palette is carried over in the floor finishes (ceramic or porcelain in Paramus, and vinyl wood in Virginia Beach).

LAYOUTS: At 7,700 sq. ft., the Paramus location is the larger of the two and is a remodel project. It has a “town square” format, with the fitting rooms and cashwrap and other related functions located in a central service hub, evoking a communal vibe. A wall of framed black-and-white baby photos accents the wall behind the checkout.

The Paramus superstore also has a learning studio, separated from the selling space by draped windows, that offers a variety of fitness and educational classes.

The all-new 5,000-sq.-ft. Virginia Beach location has a “discovery” floor plan that is less directed and features fewer straight lines compared with the standard racetrack layout. The layout sets customers on a pathway to explore the store.

Destination Maternity said it plans to use both of its new locations as “lab stores” where it can test adjacencies, shop formats, visual statements, customer service enhancements and new paths of navigation.

“As always, our underlying message that a customer doesn’t have to give up her personal style when she’s expecting shines through in both formats,” said Chris Daniel, president, Destination Maternity.

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