Neiman Marcus’ Retail Cusp Concept

How does a high-end department store retailer go after younger, more fashion-forward customers? If you’re Neiman Marcus, you start opening Cusp stores–trendy, stylish boutiques designed to appeal to women age 21 to 45.

Cusp stores sell a mix of fashion, accessories, beauty products, CDs, and books. The first opened in July 2006; Neiman Marcus currently operates four, with locations in McLean, VA; Los Angeles; Washington; and Northbrook, IL. 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.

Two rooms in the front of the store offer seasonal trends, Patrick says, with a “dress up/go out feel with a little more shine and embellishment. The other front room shows more color and prints.” The back of the stores sell shoes, bags, and accessories, and more casual styles such as denim, he adds.

The store also uses 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.

Cusp store merchandise is “highly edited,” Patrick says, and a mix of high and low price points. “It is about finding the best items in each category that we carry.” Products range from knit tops from Splendid at $50 to sequined cocktail dresses from Alice and Olivia and Tory Burch at $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.

Neiman Marcus research had revealed that “there were customers who enjoyed shopping in smaller specialty stores,” he says. “We wanted to take advantage of that marketplace.” Why the name Cusp? “We thought it was a short sweet name that talked to the contemporary 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 working. But Patrick says that so far, the Cusp stores are meeting expectations. “We’re pleased with our performance,” he says.

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