• Andrea Lillo

May to court younger, casual consumer

Houston — With an eye on a younger consumer, The May Department Stores Co. will open eight lifestyle prototype stores within the next 30 months as part of several key initiatives to modernize the merchandise and environment across its divisions and drive sales.

At its annual meeting here last week, Gene Kahn, chairman and ceo, said that May is repositioning its merchandise to reflect a more casual lifestyle and target younger customers while eliminating merchandise duplication and narrowing styles to "make choices more compelling and focused."

"A casual and relaxed lifestyle is the cornerstone of merchandise growth," he said.

In the past, May focused on a more tailored and dressy look, but a more modern feel will infuse all merchandise categories in the future.

In addition, private label will be a key focus. "Proprietary product is one of our key initiatives," Kahn said. "It adds distinction and value." For instance, May will bow three new apparel brands this fall. And, after the meeting, Kahn said that the home area, which currently has a low penetration of private label merchandise, will see an increase in PL brands in the future.

"We do our own beach towel and flannel program, but besides that, very little," he noted.

Customers also will find a different shopping experience at May, which has been testing ideas such as express checkouts, shopping carts and mesh shopping bags in some of its locations. Eight test stores have express checkouts consisting of several terminals grouped together in the middle of the store or at exits. They are always manned, Kahn said. Six months of testing have drawn a favorable response from 24-to-40-year-old shoppers, he added.

May also is broadening its target consumer base, looking to attract consumers between 19 and 44 with its reworked merchandise assortment and store presentation. It also sees tweeners, age 9 to 12, and teens, age 13 to 18, as important groups to focus on — all while retaining its core customer, the Baby Boomer.

Gift-giving is another initiative for May as it strives to become the "go-to" for every holiday or event. "There is tremendous opportunity at May to become the premiere store for wedding needs, with cross-marketing potential" among May properties, which include a number of bridal business acquisitions. "It helps introduce the home assortment to this young group," Kahn said.

Overall the home category has seen some areas of strength, he said, though it is not doing as well as the company would like. Parts of textiles and housewares are performing, and furniture is doing "particularly well."

Kahn also discussed May's new 140,000-square-foot, "lifestyle" prototype. Three are slated to open in October: a Robinsons-May in Orange County, CA; a Hecht's store in Greensboro, NC; and a Filene's store in Leominster, MA, a suburb of Boston. May is committed to eight such stores so far, though Kahn said he would like to have a dozen.

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