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04/13/2011

New Concepts: Five to Watch

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New concepts remain the lifeblood of retail. A child- and mom-friendly apparel specialty store, two Canadian imports, an iconic 102-year-old brand and a Polish cosmetics giant are among the latest companies looking to make their mark on the nation’s retail scene. The five up-and-comers are profiled here.



HOT MAMA: A frustrating shopping experience—aisles and fitting rooms hard to navigate with a stroller, clothes that didn’t quite fit right and not very helpful associates—convinced new mom Megan Tamte that a gap existed in the women’s apparel marketplace. That gap gave rise to Hot Mama, a retail concept dedicated to helping moms look good — and to providing them with a comfortable shopping experience from start to finish. 



Tamte and her husband, Mike (who currently serves as CEO and chairman), did a lot of research before opening the first Hot Mama in 2004, in Edina, Minn. All the planning paid off: The company has blossomed. It currently has spread to 17 Midwest locations.



Aggressive expansion plans call for 10 new stores this year and 14 next year against a goal of 50 by 2014.



“Our intent is to become a national chain,” said Kristina Klockars, VP, Hot Mama, Edina, Minn. “We are comfortable with four-season buying, so we’ll start growing in the North. Then it’s on to three-season states, then further south. You’ll most likely see us in Texas and Arizona in three years.”



Hot Mama feels the time is right for a national expansion. 



“We don’t believe that we have any competitors, that is, retailers who are specifically targeting moms,” Klockars said. “Nordstrom and J. Crew target women in their 30 to 40s, but not moms specifically. There is a big, gaping hole in the marketplace.”



Hot Mama seeks to fill that need in the trend with stylish clothing and accessories that work for a variety of ages, lifestyles and figures. As Megan Tamte found out back in 1997, new moms usually must bid adieu to their pre-baby bodies.



“When we do buying, we look for different qualities, different body types. We have to look at cuts that minimize the presence of larger bellies or bigger butts,” Klockars explained. 



Hot Mama considers itself a boutique. The sweet-spot range for spring tops is $58 to $78. Denim is a big seller, with an average price point of $135. Sales per square foot tally around $450. 



Hot Mama deals in such national brands as James Jeans, Hudson and Lulumari. But the company plans to introduce private-label brands once store proliferation lifts volume enough to make it feasible. Maternity wear accounts for about 10% of the mix, but Hot Mama is dropping it in new stores to more sharply focus its identity.



The store experience is all about moms’ needs. There are play areas for kids in close proximity to dressing rooms, which are extra-wide to accommodate strollers. While the store associates may not be necessarily mothers themselves, they are schooled in aspects of motherhood. > 



“They are trained to assess body types, age and lifestyles when customers walk through the door and start pecking off possible items in their heads immediately,” Klockars explained. “Moms often stop at the store in between kid drop-offs and don’t have much time.”



New stores will keep with the current 2,500-sq.-ft. footprint, but interiors will morph from Northern rustic to suburban sophisticated. Its gray walls and cherrywood fixtures will be replaced by creamy hues and hot metal. The retailer’s signature touches of red will be retained.



“We’re going lighter and brighter, posh-ing it up a bit while keeping it grounded and casual,” explained director of visual merchandising Amy Schmitt. “The floors will be a lighter color, for instance, but still distressed and with a soft sound.”



Hot Mama debuted its updated look with the recent opening of its store in Lone Tree, Colo.



ARITZIA: While Target and other U.S. retailers expand northward, a stylish Canadian import has come stateside. The brand, Aritzia, which specializes in on-trend fashions for women ages 18 to 35, has big plans. 



The vertically integrated company is headed by Canadian retail veteran Brian Hill, who started his career at the Vancouver department store — Hill’s — his grandfather founded in 1914. (The store is still in the family, and is operated by Hill’s father and brother.)



“Customer service and fashionable merchandise are an essential part of Aritzia and, as a result, our sales per square foot are among the highest in our category in Canada and in the top quartile in the U.S.,” said Hill, CEO, Aritzia, Vancouver, which operates 48 stores, including eight in the United States. 



Some 80% of Aritzia’s stock is exclusive, with in-house design teams dedicated to various labels ranging in price and positioning. Designer brands, including Marc by Marc Jacobs, J Brand and Rag & Bone, make up the remainder. 



Aritzia’s average sales per square foot exceed $1,500 in Canada — well above industry average — and they do not appear to be lagging far behind in the company’s U.S. locations. Aritzia reports same-store sales gains topping 30%, with such locales as San Francisco, Chicago and Short Hills, N.J., ringing up 70% increases in recent months.



“We brought something to the party that was needed,” said Sally Parrott, VP marketing, Aritzia. “The U.S. market is ripe for new retail concepts. There are not a lot of new ideas in our category.“



Parrott added that while fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Topshop have thrived in the recession, Aritzia succeeded in tapping women’s desires for added sophistication and quality, with prices that range from $40 tops to $400 leather jackets.



“Aritzia is aspirational,” Parrott explained. “It’s giving younger women who’d like to shop in boutiques a taste of sophistication but at an affordable price.” 



Aritzia will unveil its flagship U.S. location, a 10,000-sq.-ft., two-level store at Broadway and Spring Street in Manhattan’s SoHo area, this summer. 



“We intentionally moved into the U.S. slowly,” Parrott said. “We wanted to get our proposition right before we moved into Manhattan.”



Adding to the company’s appeal is that no two Aritzia stores are exactly alike. Interiors favor natural woods and original art produced by a staff of in-house artists and designers. The stores are known for funky signage; indie rock soundtracks; and irreverent, wildlife-inspired window displays, such as flying cats and space reindeer.



“We try to build stores that are in tune with what’s going on with the people, to connect people with the energy of the culture,” CEO Hill said. “We spend a lot doing it, north of $300 per square foot. We don’t want to wake up one day and find our stores out of date.” 



Aritzia’s future growth will be pegged on the United States, where it is on the hunt for real estate. The chain’s focus is on prize locations in urban markets and footprints of 4,000 sq. ft. and up.



“We are actively looking for opportunities in the U.S. but will be selective,” Hill added. 



JOE FRESH: “I’m shocked that Joe Fresh hasn’t invaded the States yet,“ wrote Web blogger Susan C. of Brooklyn last year after visiting a Loblaws in Canada. “Their clothes are cuter than the Gap’s and about half the price.”



As it turns out, the