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LNT reworks the mix as new initiatives roll out

At Linens 'N Things' brief annual meeting last week, chairman and ceo Norman Axelrod re-emphasized themes the company has discussed since the fourth quarter: improving inventory management, revitalizing the textiles business and enhancing the shopping experience.

Far more telling is the unfolding of those initiatives at the store level, where the window business, specialty textiles business and other forays, such as the specialty food and cleaning supplies businesses, are transforming the LNT box.

Also in the stores — and unmentioned by management in public statements — is a new thrust aimed at the younger set, in a new juvenile section called LNT Jr. that offers cross-category lifestyle merchandise for 2- to 10-year olds.

Initially introduced in February, this new program "is a great opportunity," said Bill Giles, cfo, after the annual meeting. "It fits in well with our guest profile."

As seen in the company's New Jersey units in Totowa and Paramus, the Jr. program shows LNT's interest in maximizing the potential of an area whose profile has been significantly raised across all retail channels by the success of Pottery Barn Kids. Each LNT unit visited by HTT treated the Jr. program differently, although it is unclear whether by design or due to store layout restrictions. The LNT Jr. department in Paramus displayed a striking array of merchandise, cross-merchandised around several dressed juvenile beds and set apart from the main aisle of the store with its own carpeting. The area devoted to Jr. in Totowa was much tighter and lacked the dressed beds.

The bedding in the New Jersey stores is built around three major programs: the new private label LNT Jr., Laura Ashley Children's Room by Revman Industries, and My Room Too from CHF Industries. Five patterns include coordinating sheet sets, quilts, comforters, shaped and square decorative pillows, handhooked rugs and valances, all of which were displayed in floor-to-ceiling fixtures.

Filling out the department are LNT Jr. branded wall décor, hooks, plate sets and occasional furniture as well as impulse items such as arts and crafts sets.

Specific products included a LNT Jr. gingham 200-count cotton twin sheet set ($29.99), a Bugs & Butterflies handcrafted quilt (twin, $99.99; full, $139.99), a poly/cotton window valance (81" x 15", $19.99), a Dora the Explorer fleece throw from Mohawk ($19.99), a 3' x 5' hooked cotton rug ($69.99), a Wolfgang Puck kitchen textiles set under Elrene's Newbridge label (chef's hat, apron and oven mitt, $14.99) and plush pillow ($14.99).

Elsewhere in the Totowa store, LNT's other product initiatives have surfaced nicely. The window department, which president Steve Silverstein has pointed to as a key growth area chainwide, demonstrates just how much potential the retailer sees in the category. There, window is given a robust presentation in a department that runs roughly 60 feet along the back of the store and some 20 feet deep. The guest service station for the rear of the store is located at the edge of the department. Approximately 20 square feet in window is given over to an extensive assortment of hard accessories such as decorative rods, hold backs, finials and drapery rings.

The product assortment in soft window is expansive, stocked with branded and private label product in an array of styles from casual to formal looks. Maximizing the space, the department is merchandised with tiered displays that run up the back wall for swaps, valances and café curtains. Interspersed through the vast soft window area are add-ons such as hooks and tassels.

The transition of the specialty food business from a seasonal effort to a year-round category was evident in a U-shaped display area along the racetrack leading to checkout. Running some 24 feet deep, the section's assortment consists of flavored vinegars, teas, jams, quick-bread mixes, candies, spices, sauces and snacks of the type that are most often found in food boutiques and specialty catalogs.

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