NEW YORK, United States — Levi’s is doubling down on its brick-and-mortar presence in New York, on Thursday opening its new flagship store in Times Square that’s twice as a big as its previous location.
The 17,000-square-foot store will be the denim brand’s largest, featuring a customisation bar with four on-site tailors and t-shirt printing capabilities that allow shoppers to choose their own preloaded logos and designs — a function “just like a tattoo parlour” that will be particularly attractive to young consumers, said Jen Sey, chief marketing officer. The store will also highlight its history as the original blue jeans creator, with an informational timeline display that correlates with racks that carry the original models throughout its 165 years, such as the "1947" or the "1966."
The jeans giant inked a long-term lease of 10 to 15 years for the location on Broadway. For Levi’s, opening this new flagship comes at the heels renewed growth for the company. Revenues nearly reached $5 billion last year, after stagnating for much of the 2000s amid competition from fast fashion and athleisure. In August, it raised its full-year guidance to reflect a projected 8 percent to 10 percent growth for fiscal 2018.
The company is also planning an initial public offering, aiming to raise between $600 million and $800 million early next year, CNBC reported Wednesday. Levi's declined to comment on the matter.
The brand has rebounded under chief executive Charles “Chip” Bergh, and has seen 11 consecutive quarters of growth in the US. The new flagship also bolsters the Levi’s efforts to grow its direct-to-consumer business, which makes up one-third of the company’s sales.
Levi’s was able to regain momentum under Bergh, who hired Karyn Hillman as the brand’s new chief product officer to modernise the design of women’s products, including non-denim apparel. The brand was also an early adopter of customisation and garnered brand awareness through a number of collaborations.
The direct-to-consumer arm is already growing faster than the wholesale segment — an “organic evolution of our overall approach,” said executive vice president Roy Bagattini added.
Levi’s previously operated a storefront in Times Square one block south of the new location. That iteration was “big, but just a store,” Sey said, “whereas this is really an embodiment of the stature of the brand today.”
In addition, the company will “drop” exclusive and capsule collections at this store, and employ mobile checkout with sales associates so consumers can make a purchase without having to wait in line at the cash register.
Although traditional retail players continue to struggle in the face of e-commerce, young direct-to-consumer brands and savvy veterans like Levi’s are reinvesting in their brick-and-mortar presence — at least in New York. Menswear brand Descendant of Thieves and upscale embroidery label Lingua Franca are among the new tenants occupying previously empty storefronts on Bleecker Street, a haute shopping district that had fallen on hard times as rents skyrocketed in recent years. Chic multi-brand transplants like 10 Corso Como (Milan) and Forty Five Ten (Dallas) will be anchoring some of the city’s largest new developments.
“It’s an exciting time for retail right now,” said Robin Abrams, a retail broker at Compass. “Some brands are even using the store as a billboard rather than [sales vehicles], which further reflects that retailers believe that even with changing norms, brick-and-mortar has to be part of their overall strategy in driving sales.”
In New York, moreover, retail rents are finally thawing after record-high prices two years ago. Landlords are now willing to cut deals and even accept short-term leases so brands have the opportunity to test the waters before committing.
Times Square, however, had always been healthier than some other neighbourhoods in Manhattan, Abrams said. “It’s cheaper than [north] Fifth Avenue but more expensive than Soho, but you can’t beat it in terms of exposure to an international base. For a brand like Levi’s that is international, they’re getting lots of eyes on them.”
For Levi’s, it hopes the new store will ensure the seamless shopping experience between online and off. New functions will be complemented by online features like virtual stylists, Bagattini said.
“The store does represent an opportunity for us to truly bring to life what we’ve learned over the recent years,” he said.