Primark’s Boston Store- a Retail Force to Be Reckoned With

Primark, the UK-based discount retailer opened their first US store in Boston this month. The low-cost, low margin, fast fashion retailer, is located in the 70,000 square foot, historic Filene’s department store building in Boston’s Downtown Crossing section. They have plans to open 10 more locations on the East Coast by Easter 2016.

Well designed floor sets at Primark

Well-designed floor sets at Primark

I visited the store on Saturday the 26th and found it mobbed with urban shoppers. The location is a tour-de-force for a company that targets 18-35 year old, cash-strapped Millennial demographic. The Washington Street site, of recent decades has been a decaying, retail wasteland. Surrounded by the Financial, entertainment districts and Chinatown. It is far from other residential neighborhoods, but directly across from the highly central Park Street subway stop. The daytime walkable population swells dramatically, from the Financial District and other nearby employers.

Boston is home to three major upscale shopping areas, Copley Place, Newbury and Charles Streets. Many of the world’s best retailers open test stores here, because of the many universities, large population of wealthy international students and tourists, as well as a cosmopolitan, well-heeled population. The mass customer has been grossly underserved in Boston proper, so Primark, H+M and Macy’s in Downtown Crossing offer a strong trifecta for budget-conscious customers.

Seventies items at Primark

Seventies fashion items at Primark

I’m blown away by Primark’s well-merchandised assortment, attractive floor sets, and incredibly low prices, e.g. cotton tees for five dollars, jackets for thirty-five, seven dollar jeans, trendy shoes for ten…The assortment is compelling with strong key item basics and on-trend pieces like Bohemian, seventies-inspired items. It is wearable and stylish, including men’s,women’s, children’s and home.

The offer is more “adult”, less “teenage” than Forever 21 and Old Navy, less contemporary than Zara and less trendy than H+M. They also have a particularly strong intimate apparel department, which could eventually take a bite out of Victoria’s Secret. I couldn’t help thinking, why a frugal customer would scour discounters like TJX, when they can find such depth of selection at Primark?

Sometimes foreign-based retailer’s brand aesthetic doesn’t fit with American styling, color and taste levels. (I think this will hamper Uniglo’s future US expansion.) Primark’s Dublin-designed products feel comfortably appropriate in the US market.

A well done athletic assortment

A well done athletic assortment

Primark is another game changing player in the seismic shift of the Teutonic plates under US retail. The Millennial customer’s high debt levels, surging rent, transportation, entertainment expenses and the cost of staying connected, have had a deflationary effect on apparel pricing. To a great extent this customer is brand agnostic and sees apparel as a commodity. Fast-fashion, discount stores, consignment and apparel rental retailers, have been the beneficiaries of this mega-trend.

I spoke to an eagerly observing Primark executive. He was leaving in a few days to open the King of Prussia store in PA. I said, “Forever 21, Zara, H+M, Kohl’s, Target and J.C.Penney have a lot to worry about with Primark“. He wryly replied “That’s what we hope for.”

Men's clothing is wearable and compelling.

Men’s clothing is wearable and compelling.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting, Boston-based, product development, creative, branding, business consulting and executive coaching for apparel, footwear & consumer products companies and retail analysts. Follow me to get the latest posts

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6 Five-Star Specialty Retailers in a Lackluster Field

I was shopping in New York recently and feeling rather uninspired. I usually have an agenda, a new store or retailer, I am particularly excited about. Most large retailers make their own apparel and accessory products, so the watery soup is often spoiled by too many cooks, adding their managerial spice. It’s increasingly hard to find good retail theater, a strong brand identity and exciting, well-designed product, that hasn’t been tainted by levels of bureaucrats.

I challenged myself to come up with 6 “five-star” retailers that are doing an outstanding job, with a consistent brand experience and compelling fashion in a lackluster field:

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

Madewell – is the baby sister of J. Crew. I have been a long-time J. Crew proponent, even though the mothership has stumbled lately. Madewell is coming into its own with American casual classics, based around core denim pieces. You know to expect great jeans, chambray shirts, denim jackets, hip tees and knits, funky socks, rustic leather bags and shoes and slightly bohemian jewelry. The colors are simple and lean to the neutral side. The collection is totally wearable and much better-than-average quality for the price, a winning combination. This high-growth chain has little competition in the mall and will now be sold in Nordstrom as well.

Athleta – I was not a fan of fan of Athleta when Gap purchased it in 2008 for a mere $150 million. At the time their “zen-like” yoga prints and mass-market color sense paled against activewear, fashion pioneer Lululemon. Gap was betting on the powerful athleisure trend in apparel and has put their considerable product development muscle and resources behind the chain. They now have over 100 stores and have shed those expected “new-age” prints for a powerful collection of more urbane, sexy, forward clothing. They get that the athletic trend is worn as much out of the gym, as in, with their deep collection of cosmopolitan casual dresses, knit tops, bottoms and huge assortment of mix and match swimwear. I actually bought a $500 leather jacket at this formerly “perky” yoga chain and have never even done a downward dog.

Club Monaco – is a Canadian-based acquisition, part of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. Certainly not a household word, they only have approximately 140 stores worldwide. Club Monaco offers women’s and men’s collections of modern, urbane classics at affordable luxury prices points. Tasteful, upscale and contemporary, they are especially strong in knit tops, dresses, jackets, skirts and accessories for work and play. The quality of design and materials, far exceeds the price points to make Club Monaco a fairly hidden gem.

Michael Kors – Wandering through Macy’s first floor flagship the other day, I was blown away by the crowd of at least 40 people in the Michael Kors shop. The Coach concession across the hall had 2 visitors. it wasn’t a special event, it was business as usual for this hot-shot, brand-of-the-moment.

Michael Kors is a text-book example of consistent branding. The uber-glam handbags, watches, shoes and “bit of an after note”, clothing are precisely on the same urbane plane. Their stores, website, marketing collateral and product are as in sync as an Argentine tango. Chock it up as a real designer with one eye for everything. Even if you are getting tired of his ubiquitous bags, this brand is fashion branding royalty.

Zara – is fast-fashion at it’s finest. Owned by Spanish parent Inditex, in my book it blows away competitors H&M and Forever 21. They consistently put out easy-to-shop collections of fashion forward apparel and accessories, that defy their puny price points. Taken out of context the styling and quality could be mistaken for some of the best. There is no doubt what to expect at Zara, the best fashion trends in real-time, at really low prices. Zara brand profile as fashion leader, is crystal clear.

Lou & Grey – is a new free-standing store concept brand from parent Ann, Inc. It was born from the success of loungy apparel in their Loft chain. When I stumbled upon the Natick, Ma concept store, I was pleasantly surprised by the small sophisticated, upscale environment and compelling collection of lifestyle casual apparel and earthy accessories. This is the best thing Ann Inc. has done in a while. It is easier to do something new than reinvent history. Ann Taylor and Loft have become sterilized versions of their glory days with poor quality, dull offerings and banal stores. Currently only 7 stores,  Lou & Grey is one to watch.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

The Feminine Five

Colored jeans are getting all the press, as the biggest trend you can get your mannied paws around this season. There is another huge trend quietly demanding the hearts and wallets of the fashion obsessed and ordinary mortals alike.

I call it The Feminine Five, five big trends in women’s (and girls) styling that can inspire romance novels and separate the girls from the boys. These ladylike details, fabrics and techniques are infinitely flattering and straddle the boundary of classic and fashion. They fit into most women’s lifestyles, contemporary and classic and work on all ages. Consequently, they are ringing registers around the world.

The trend looks especially modern when paired with casual pieces like jeans, shorts and washed jackets. These trends take on a dressier attitude when worn with refined pieces like tailored jackets, pleated and pencil skirts.

5 top fabric and styling trends!

5 top fabric and styling trends!

Lace fabric is everywhere from netting to heavy over-embroidered cottons. Lace fabrics are found on tops, skirts, shorts, dresses, shoes and bags.

Ruffle mania has continued to dominate on tops, skirts and dresses; from bold irregular ruffles at Crewcuts to tiny reflective ruffles on Lululemon sleeves.

Eyelet fabrics are having a renaissance on breezy tops, shorts, dresses and flouncy skirts. They lean folkloric or juvenile worn head-to-toe or in color.

Crochet details are showing up on shoes, bags and trims, as well as lacy crochet sweaters.

Pleats and peplum details are found on skirts, tops and casual and tailored jackets.

The Feminine Five are found in many of the hottest wholesale and retail brands – Free People, Zara, Club Monaco, Robert Rodriguez, Milly, Alice & Olivia, Joie, Rachel Zoe, Diane Von Furstenburg, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Christian Louboutin and many more.

I expect these highly salable styling trends to continue in seasons to come.

Dix& Pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

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