Wal-Mart’s New Style: Out With Kathie Lee, In With Trendier Looks

Wal-Mart is bidding adieu to its Kathie Lee label, marking the end of an era and the start of a new apparel department. Here are the details.

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Under Clancy’s watch, things are clicking. A new apparel department layout for Wal-Mart stores is being tested at 11 doors in midsized markets such as Tallahassee, Fla., and Oshkosh, Wis. It will roll out in all new stores this year.

Based on a pure grid, the layout has fewer fixtures, clearer sight lines and wider aisles so moms with kids in tow can maneuver easily. The architects who designed Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Markets — supermarket-cum-convenience stores where getting in and out quickly is the whole point —also developed the new apparel department.

The buzzword is "shopability," an industry trend not just for Neighborhood Markets and Wal-Mart apparel, but also for J.C. Penney and Sears, which widened their aisles and installed centralized cash registers in remodeled stores in a move aimed at following the pattern set by Kohl’s.

Merrill Lynch’s Barry estimated that roomier aisles — with their inviting feel and promise of a quicker, more effective visit — could generate more business than adding additional racks. A less congested appearance may also lure in higher-income customers who shop Wal-Mart for food and sundries but are generally not apparel customers.

Other changes in the works as part of the new design include wood-grain tile in the departments instead of charcoal gray carpet, which absorbs light and dulls product.

"What we have to sell is color," Clancy said. "Wood tile floors are lighter, airier, more fun — and they let light reflect off the goods, so I think the product looks better."

Curved corner fixtures used for more trendy merchandise will be removed, Clancy said. Uniform Wal-Mart fixtures with either a black or bronze finish will replace vendor racks. Signs have been simplified so that brand credit and price will be the main statement, á la Target. Lifestyle shots will be moved to hangtags and the sides of fixtures, instead of the current billboard-style use.

Brands will be whittled down to those with the clearest identity. Clancy cites Kohl’s as having a well-edited mix.

Within Wal-Mart, she credited trend-driven junior label No Boundaries as first in "delivering real quality to a brand profile for the last eight to 10 seasons." Faded Glory’s denim-friendly family offering and misses’ casualwear from White Stag ranked second and third, respectively, in her estimation of their customer coherence. Both lines are designed outside Bentonville: White Stag and active-casual brand Catalina are directed by a 10-person team in Los Angeles, while Faded Glory has 75 staffers in New York. Debunking the perception that Wal-Mart is preoccupied with its Bentonville navel, the company posted its trend director for all its apparel collections in Manhattan.
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