Neiman Marcus on the retail cusp

Neiman Marcus is renowned for its elegant stores and superior service, but it’s never really been considered cutting edge. The upscale cataloger/retailer is addressing the issue with its new Cusp stores designed to appeal to a younger demographic.

The first Cusp store opened in July 2006; Neiman Marcus currently operates four, with locations in McLean, VA; Los Angeles; Washington; and Northbrook, IL. The shops target women age 21 to 45. But what exactly is a Cusp store?

They’re trendy, stylish boutique-like stores that sell a mix of fashion, accessories, beauty products, CDs, and books. The Cusp locations range in size from 7,000 sq. ft. to 11,000 sq. ft., according to Russ Patrick, managing director of Neiman’s Cusp stores. “The actual space is a little more raw, a loft-like feeling with exposed ceilings and polished concrete floors,” Patrick says.

The stores use fixtures called marionettes, which are suspended in the air from the ceiling with wires to hang dresses and handbags. “We have a rope and pulley system so we can take bags down and then suspend them again,” Patrick says. The store design has been well received by shoppers, he says. “We’re learning every day how we can improve the concept.”

Cusp store selections are “highly edited,” Patrick says. Mixing high and low price points is an important part of the concept, he notes. “It is about finding the best items in each category that we carry.” Products range from $50 knit tops from Splendid to sequined cocktail dresses from Alice and Olivia and Tory Burch that sell more $750-$850.

“We merchandise by style, not vendor,” Patrick says. In fact, store associates are called stylists. “We really see them as stylists, because they pull from all over the store and create individual looks for customers, and that makes it a full discovery process,” he says.

Why the name Cusp? “We thought it was a short sweet name that talked to the contempory marketplace with these vendors being on the cusp,” Patrick says.

The company is still in the research and development stage, discovering what’s working and what’s not. But Patrick says the Cusp stores are meeting expectations. “We’re watching it very closely throughout the fall season,” he notes, adding that Neiman Marcus will conduct a review of the concept in January.

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