At the time when many retailers are downsizing, XSRE, a new all-accessories ‘superstore,’ is betting that bigger is better, with a goal to be the category killer in accessories. Jeff Prine counts the square footage
XSRE [ak-ses-uh-ree] – noun 1. an extraordinary selection of accessories for women of all ages in one massive new store.
That’s how Sam Dushey, president, and his veteran merchandising team describe their latest retail venture that appears to fly in the face of current conventional retail theory. Rather than downsizing or eliminating slow-turning categories, XSRE goes after accessories full-on in stores located in heavily trafficked suburban strip shopping centers in spaces ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 square feet. Inside there’re some 100,000 SKUs of accessories of every type from fashion handbags and footwear to hosiery and shapewear to hair accessories and fashion jewelry suitable for every occasion. And most of the merchandise retails well under $50. What’s more, XSRE already has three such stores: its first two doors opened in December 2010: Bay Harbor Shopping Center, Lawrence, New York, and Palisades Center Mall, West Nyack, New York. More recently, XSRE opened in Paramus Town Square on Route 17 in Paramus, New Jersey.
The sheer scope of XSRE seems daunting, but not for Dushey who says he was “born in the business.” His father started a discount department store near Baltimore in the 1950s that Dushey expanded into Shoppers World, a multi-state, 18-unit discount department store business that encompasses apparel, accessories and home furnishings for the entire family. And his background working on retail real estate, including some of the top locations not only in the Northeast but nationwide, gives Dushey insight into what works and where. A good team is essential too. Helping on the buying side are industry veterans lead by Deborah Rudinsky, formerly of Doneger Associates, and Lisette Mahar, formerly of New York & Co. and Steve Madden.
After a tour through the Paramus store, Dushey sat down to discuss the “what’s, where’s and why’s” of his women’s only accessories superstore concept.
Why open an all-accessories category killer?
I was thinking last year about what classification was open to a big box concept, one that offered some margin. I came up with women’s accessories. Retail is improving slowly, but if there’s one category that addresses a more cautious shopper, it’s women’s accessories. And while there are category killers like Staples in office supplies and Bed, Bath and Beyond in home goods, no one has approached accessories to the extent we do. We also have made an effort to bring in merchandise that’s exciting and timely, nothing pedestrian. XSRE is a woman’s fantasy store. She walks in there and goes “Wow!” The formula is working—our customers love us.
All-accessories retailer Charming Charlie’s targets the 40+ demographic and Claire’s skews younger to tweens and teens. How do you describe XSRE’s demographic?
It’s difficult to say. We literally have ages 15 to 70. I think that because we have a range of merchandise that suits all ages, we get all ages. We bring in new merchandise nearly every day, so we have customers who come back several times a week, even daily. We put the latest arrivals out on tables in each category areas. I’ve made it a policy that you won’t find an empty peg in our stores. All inventory, including footwear, is out in open-sell fixtures, tables, slat walls, etc.
Is your focus mainly on branded merchandise or private label?
In handbags almost everything is either branded or a designer name. Among them: Nine West, Steve Madden, Kenneth Cole, Jessica Simpson, Guess, Big Buddha, Sondra Roberts, Rampage, XOXO, U.S. Polo, Hello Kitty, Chocolate, La Cesca, etc. We have Spanx in our hosiery and shapewear. Right now these brands are merchandised in our handbag department by category and color, but we may eventually pull together in-store brand shops when appropriate. In jewelry, we either use the manufacturer/designer’s card or our own or generic ones.
What about your average pricepoints?
Overall, between $5 to $50. Of course some branded handbag merchandise is higher. We featured “everyday low prices” with our assortments in a “good, better, best” formula.
Besides traditional accessories classifications, XSRE has additional classifications, too, such as cosmetics, intimates, etc.
Yes, basically we carry anything that goes on a woman’s body except apparel—although some of the summer beachwear cover-ups could be worn as a dress. Our accessories scope also includes beauty, fragrance, cosmetics, temporary tattoos, nail decals, hair extensions and pet accessories. We have a dedicated area for social occasion jewelry and accessories for bridal, prom, etc. We have a tech accessories area with mobile phone covers, headphones and tablet covers all in fun fashion looks. We ask our store managers and sales associates to give us feedback in case we miss something, although we seldom do! We love it when consumers tell us we have something they have been looking for and couldn’t find it any place else. We are rarely stumped when a customer asks for something. Recently one asked us for button covers.
We didn’t have them, but we will soon.
The store center has a warm weather department with swimwear, cover-ups, beach bags, hats, etc. Is this your seasonal area?
Yes, by back-to-school we will begin transitioning into cold weather, knitwear, gloves, shawls, wraps, outerwear items, etc. That is the only area of an XSRE store that completely changes seasonally. Even in sunglasses—which most stores reduce come fall—we prominently maintain with a consistent sized department year round. It was very successful when we opened last winter, too.
What accessories have been doing best in your stores?
It’s funny, when we opened our second store the day after the big post-Christmas blizzard, we were worried. But as it turns out, we opened with a full cold weather assortment that continued to sell throughout the winter. The harsh winter helped that business. The fact that XSRE is a one-stop shop is a great advantage. Right now, the fastest selling classification is hair goods. That includes everything from traditional headbands, bows and twists to unusual items like tiaras, faux ponytails and other hair extensions. We have the unexpected and you’d be surprised what sells. Prom jewelry and fashion watches have done very well. We also put Lucite boxes with small items, such as candies, in the cash check lines similar to the ones Sephora has. They have done really great, too.
How are you getting the word out to consumers about XSRE?
Our bold, fuchsia and shimmering silver logo sign atop our stores gets lots of notice. And when customers first come in, they usually ask our associates, “Where have you been?” So word of mouth also had been very good. We advertised in newspaper circulars and have used Facebook and Twitter to connect with existing consumers and even those in areas we may be in the future. We offer a customer Loyalty Card and we inaugurated a program with the nearby schools where we give discounts to their students and a percentage back to the school, too. It’s been a good way to connect not only with the younger generation, but with their mothers who usually come in with them.
What are your expansion plans?
We plan to open another 10 stores in the next 12 months. In five years, we plan to have 100 stores from the Washington D.C. area up to New England. While we do tailor merchandise to accommodate customers in each selling area, the premise will be the same everywhere: the most complete offering of accessories at retail. We’ve been asked, “Why don’t you carry men’s accessories, too?” We never will. We see XSRE as a women’s fantasy shopping experience. It’s about making her the center of attention.
That’s going to take tons of merchandise, no?
Yes, indeed. We’ve been exploring the entire accessories market, and many companies came to us after they saw or heard about our first location. Starting in September, we’re planning “go see” vendor days where our buyers will meet with new or emerging designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who have something different to offer. Since we appeal to such a broad cross section of consumers, I think you’ll see more and more vendors wanting to test new merchandise and looks at XSRE. And we may layer in private label in the future. We have the ability to react quickly on trending items.
Your website in more informational. Do you anticipate adding e-commerce?
E-commerce is something we’re looking at in the future—when we have more stores. Right now, consumers can go to our website and sign up to receive style updates, special offers, etc.
What is XSRE’s biggest strength?
We have a small buying team that works well together. There aren’t layers of executives to go through for a purchase order. We can react immediately. And our staff—from managers, assistants, cash wrap, greeters and stock—all know the assortments and can pinpoint accessories for our customers. And if we happen not to have it… well we will soon!