Nearly a year after closing all 180 of its U.S. stores, Bebe is staging a comeback with the introduction of its new “lifestyle” store in New York City. Bebe is putting the fashion experience front and center with features that include a beauty bar that offers on-demand hair and makeup services; a lounge for fashion and beauty events and discussions; and a personalization station that gives shoppers an opportunity to customize apparel with patches, embroidery and Swarovski crystals. The store will also have stylists on hand to help shoppers put together a special outfit or create a new personal style.
This experience store is a breath of fresh air for Bebe, notes Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail group at New York City–based Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Experiential shopping is no longer the future of retail or a trend; it is the only way to remain relevant, and brands are adapting quickly,” she said. The store experience is essential for luring shoppers, helping them linger longer and increasing sales, she says.
But the retailer battles hard to win back customers and get its financial house in order. Founder Manny Mashouf opened the first Bebe boutique in 1976 in San Francisco and then built the company into a women’s apparel chain that operated nearly 200 stores at its peak. Traditionally, Bebe targeted the young, fashion-forward woman but struggled against lower-price fast-fashion competitors such as Forever 21 and H&M.
Although the company was able to avoid bankruptcy, restructuring has included bringing in brand management company Bluestar Alliance as a venture partner. Since closing the bulk of its store base, the retailer has relied heavily on sales generated through its e-commerce platform. The company has also continued to operate its international stores — about 80 licensed stores worldwide. In February Bebe filed with the SEC to officially delist from Nasdaq.
“Creating a one-of-a-kind experience also encourages customers to snap a picture that they will then post and share with their social-media networks, helping increase the buzz around the brand”
The guiding force behind the Bebe lifestyle store concept is Global Brands Group Holding, a branded fashion company that manages the likes of Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture and Under Armour. Global Brands announced last June that it had forged an agreement with Bebe and Bluestar to manage the e-commerce platform, the direct-to-consumer divisions and the international operations. Bebe has said that it hopes its new store experience will help it reconnect with existing customers while engaging new customers.
Bebe is also working harder to connect with its target audience by social media. The company brought in model Jasmine Sanders for the store’s grand opening, and Global Brands has done a good job of leveraging relationships with bloggers and female influencers such as Dede Raad (known on social media as Dress Up Buttercup) and Olivia Rink. “Creating a one-of-a-kind experience also encourages customers to snap a picture that they will then post and share with their social-media networks, helping increase the buzz around the brand,” said Consolo.
Making the store much more experiential, especially with the beauty bar and the in-store stylists, is right on point with appeal to what Millennial consumers want today, notes real estate consultant Jeff Green, president of Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners. But New York City’s midtown Manhattan, where the lifestyle store is located (on West 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues), does not seem to be quite the right fit for the Bebe core customer — who has typically been a younger woman seeking more-affordable fashion, Green says. Los Angeles might have been a better fit for that first store, as Bebe units always did best on the West Coast, he points out, adding that Manhattan is a hard market to penetrate and comes with very high operating costs. “I think the concept might be very solid,” said Green, “but [this is] just not the right location.”
By Beth Mattson-Teig
Contributor, Shopping Centers Today