CHICAGO — As Ann Taylor emerges from its midlife crisis, the 58-year-old womens clothing chain is counting on a makeover to pull it out of the doldrums.
Parent Ann Inc. has a plan to replace its aging fleet of large Ann Taylor stores with smaller, more contemporary outposts that make women feel as if they have walked into their dream closet. Like many retailers these days, Ann wants to boost profits by selling the same amount of merchandise in less-expensive spaces decorated to make shoppers feel at home.
Since unveiling the first prototype in 2010 in Atlanta, the chain has rolled out 52 such stores nationwide, out of about 280 full-price Ann Taylor stores.
They had this vision of an Ann Taylor working career woman that wasnt in step with American working women, said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, a consumer shopping behavior research firm in New York. It was boring basics in an era when people want to mix it up and accessorize.
Anne Elwell is the kind of shopper Ann Taylor wants to win over.
The 42-year-old working mother of two bypassed the womens clothing store for almost a decade as the corporate culture turned casual, and Ann Taylor, maker of the quintessential interview suit, was left adrift in a sea of khaki.
But a recent trip to Ann Taylors prototype in Durham, N.C., which opened in November, convinced Elwell that a dramatic change was under way. The store was clean, bright and modern. A row of mannequins decked in electric blue blouses accented with orange metallic scarves prompted Elwell to consider fashion combinations she wouldnt have thought of on her own. Shoes and handbags, instead of stacked in one bay, were sprinkled throughout the store near the skirts and tops they complemented.
Their stuff has gotten cuter, said Elwell, a real estate agent living in Winston-Salem, N.C. It (is) less about the two-piece matching suit (and) more mix and match stuff. I have two little girls at home that I need to get ready for school each morning, so I dont have a lot of time for myself. I feel like a lot of their solutions are easy to throw on, and I know its going to look good.
The so-called new-concept stores have shown promising early results.
The reformatted, smaller stores are ringing up more sales and generating more profit from a 30 percent to 40 percent smaller footprint, said Kay Krill, president and CEO of Ann Inc., in an earnings conference call in November.
Krill also said during the call that the company is excited about the longer term opportunity to maximize sales and profitability across the chain as we continue to roll out the new format over the next few years.
Launched as Ann Taylor Loft in 1996, the younger division, now called simply Loft, surpassed revenue at Ann Taylor stores for the first time in 2005. Loft continues to outperform Ann Taylor, posting a same-store sales gain of 11 percent in the fourth quarter. Loft accounts for more than 500 of Ann Inc.s 900-plus stores.