Stores, like people, have personalities.
Whether that personality determines the customer, or the customer the personality, is one of those chicken versus egg questions that’s a matter of perennial debate (well, at least among retail nerds). And it’s not only the high-end stores that have distinctive styles — the mass crowd does, too. Contrast the white linoleum and bright lighting at Target to the often-dingy feeling at some Wal-Marts, or the pile-it-high feeling at Forever 21 to the more restrained sense of Zara. Then there is Carrefour, which no matter how big still has a French élan, versus British hypermarket operator Asda, which seems to take all its leads from Wal-Mart, its parent.
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Officials at H&M, which has more than 2,000 stores around the world, are fond of repeating its mantra: “Fashion and quality at the best price.” The Swedish fast-fashion giant’s stated aim is to dress women, men, teens and children for every occasion. Hence, its women’s collections range from basics like T-shirts to tailored classics like black pants, via sportswear, maternity clothes and avant-garde items inspired by style icons du jour like Lady Gaga.
The Divided collection is aimed at younger consumers, with a heavy emphasis on denim, street fashions and funky accessories. Children’s clothes aim to combine practicality with fashion flair and cater to three age groups: zero to 18 months; 18 months to 8 years, and 9 to 14 years.
H&M, which had sales last year of 118.69 billion Swedish krona, or $16.07 billion, is credited with popularizing high street-designer collaborations, as well as low prices, constantly changing inventory and a lightning quick supply chain. Since 2004, it has recruited the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Viktor & Rolf, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garçons and Jimmy Choo to design limited edition collections that routinely draw hysterical throngs. In addition to selling clothes designed by Madonna and Kylie Minogue, H&M has enlisted celebrities including Rihanna, Jade Jagger, Timbaland and Katy Perry to design tops for its Fashion Against AIDS collections. The retailer is also committed to increasing its use of sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, recycled polyester and tencel through initiatives like its recent Garden Collection.
To call China’s mass-market casual apparel field crowded is a massive understatement. By keeping its head down, Shanghai-based Metersbonwe has managed to come out ahead. The company has around 1,800 stores across the country, is the market leader in lower-priced casualwear with estimated sales of 4 billion renminbi, or $590 million, yet still holds less than a 2 percent share of the market.
How have they done it? According to Cai Minxu, the company’s media affairs manager, the success of Metersbonwe — which sells nothing but apparel, shoes and accessories — has come from a tightly managed supply chain, deep sales network and a clear message to customers. Though its long-standing slogan is “Be Different,” the company mainly sells clothes designed to help teens and college students fit in with their peers — a very important attribute for the majority of China’s youth.
Cai said the company aims to double market share in coming years, with new campaigns and new reach. But the core message won’t really change. These are real clothes, at good prices, for the youth.
“People ask what is the distinguishing feature of Metersbonwe,” said Cai. “I say the distinguishing feature is that it doesn’t have a distinguishing feature. We will move forward in the goal of having ‘no distinguishing feature.’”
Dollar store format
One of the few retail sectors that expanded during the recession, dollar stores opened units at a fast clip. The dollar chains compete against discount supermarkets such as Aldi and mass retailers such as Wal-Mart.
While the dollar store category is heavily invested in food and consumables, it’s been making strides with apparel and beauty. Dollar General’s proprietary brand, Bobbie Brooks, is manufactured by Gildan, which also makes Open Trails for men. The chain added Hanes in March. Dollar General Corp., which has sales approaching $12 billion, opened 207 stores last year and now operates over 8,800 units nationwide, most averaging about 7,000 square feet.
Family Dollar Stores Inc., which has 6,700 stores in 44 states, has been launching national apparel brands in an effort to boost the category, which accounts for 10 to 12 percent of sales, which totaled $7.4 billion last year. Family Dollar in 2007 bought the Bugle Boy brand.
Dollar Tree Inc., with sales of $5.2 billion, is expanding Deals, a 160-store chain it bought in 2006, with 25 new Deals units this year. At Deals, prices are more than a buck, giving Dollar Tree an opportunity to sell merchandise it can’t sell at the restricted prices of its self-named stores.