Retail in Store for Levenger

Reading accessories cataloger Levenger has been mapping out a retail strategy for three years now. But due to a joint venture with a retail pro, the Delray Beach, FL-based mailer is opening its first store a year earlier than planned — next month, in fact.

Levenger’s first store will be a 2,300-sq.-ft. shop within the Chicago flagship of department store retailer Marshall Field’s. The first-floor shop will be staffed by Levenger employees, says Levenger president/CEO Steve Leveen, and will distribute source-coded catalogs to store visitors.

Levenger will offer products from all of the categories it sells in the catalog, such as small leather goods, briefcases, and mobile furniture. Leveen doesn’t yet know how many SKUs the company will offer in its store, but he says that 85% of those products will be Levenger-branded items.

For Marshall Field’s, “our partnership with Levenger enables us to bring our guests the top-notch reading and writing products they demand,” regional manager Ralph Hughes said in a statement. Levenger will also pay an undisclosed percentage of sales to the Marshall Field’s division of Minneapolis-based Target.

Levenger will announce the shop’s opening in all of its catalogs, “because many of our customers travel through Chicago on business trips,” Leveen says. “We’ll also probably do some special targeted mailings to customers in the Chicago area in August” in anticipation of the shop’s opening. Leveen has yet to formulate any plans with Marshall Field’s and its mail order gifts catalog, but he believes that Marshall Field’s will probably promote the store in its catalog as well.

Leveen won’t reveal his sales projections for the new retail venture. “We’ll have to see how the shop plays out,” he says. “We’re taking a long-term, three-year view of it. If we’ve learned one thing about retail so far, it’s that it takes time to get things right. Fortunately, we have that time.”

Easy does it

Levenger is modeling its retail expansion after those of Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel. For the long term, “I subscribe to the [Crate & Barrel president/CEO/part-owner] Gordon Segal theory of doing one store at a time and getting it right before opening another,” Leveen says. “One of the dangers retailers can fall into is getting caught up in the real-estate opportunities and opening stores because you get a great deal on real estate. That’s a real pitfall we’ll be wary of.”

Subscribing to the cluster theory of retailing, Leveen says the company’s first self-standing or mall-based store will in all likelihood open in Chicago next fall. In addition, “we’re looking at our other top mail order markets: metropolitan New York and Washington,” he says.

Levenger’s relationship with Marshall Field’s came as a result of the cataloger’s hiring of Southfield, MI-based retail design firm JGA. Chairman Ken Nisch, who was already doing some design work for Marshall Field’s, “suggested we talk [with Marshall Field’s executives] because they were looking for innovative retailers to partner with,” Leveen says.

Also as part of its retail strategy, Levenger has hired a London-based design firm to help make over its corporate identity, namely by redesigning its packaging and graphics. The company also recently hired former Limited executive Peter Meade as retail director, and retail systems specialist Chris Fuchs.

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