Soft Surroundings to Open Two New Stores

Apparel, home décor and beauty merchant Soft Surroundings is planning to open two new stores in suburban Chicago by the end of this year.

The multichannel merchant, which started selling through catalogs and the Web in 1999, opened its first store in St. Louis, MO, in 2005 and its second store in South Windsor, CT, in 2007. The St. Louis County-based company will now add locations in posh South Barrington and Burr Ridge Park.

“When we first launched the catalog, we knew we would eventually be opening some retail stores,” says operations manager Diane Cox. “Even though we’ve done really well with the catalog and Website, we always believed we’d be even more successful in retail.”

Soft Surroundings reported sales of more than $80.4 million for 2007 — up 7% from 2006. The company mails more than 30 million catalogs a year, and has a house file of more than 1 million names.

The stores carry a majority of the merchandise found in the catalog and on the Website – including clothes; shoes and bags; home décor; bedding and bath; beauty and well being; and jewelry. The average store size is around 5,000 sq. ft.

Cox expects the majority of the stores will be in “lifestyle centers” — high-end, typically single-story urban centers which have a more “residential” feel compared to traditional big box formats, “but there are some shopping malls that we have identified as being perfect locations for us.”

Although about half of Soft Surroundings’ orders come via the Website, the “print piece remains very important,” Cox says, because the catalog is the main vehicle for driving traffic to the Web. She says the catalog will also be the main vehicle for driving traffic to the new stores. The company also does a lot of e-mail marketing as well as other direct mail such as postcards, as well as some advertising on radio, and in local papers and magazines.

Soft Surroundings strives to keep the look and feel of its brand consistent across all channels.

“Our photography [in the catalog] emphasizes our goal to the customer, as the design of the stores reinforces it,” says president/founder Robin Sheldon. “Dressing rooms are on their own thermostat for maximum comfort. Colors are restful. Fresh flowers are always in evidence. Customers joke about wanting to move into the powder rooms. Music is always playing and our latest scent is in the air.”

“The catalog provides an experience, a journey – as do the stores – with new discovery around every turn,” she adds. “Soft Surroundings aims to create a three-dimensional experience equal or better than the one-dimensional catalog through appealing to the senses on all levels.”

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