Larry’s big change

Larry’s Shoes, a men’s specialty shoe store chain, redesigned its stores’ interiors, as well as its entire concept. Several customer-oriented changes include new services, such as foot massages, quicker service, expanded shoe sizes, and more product information. Some stores will feature cappuccino and juice bars. These concept changes were the result of a $50,000 consumer survey conducted to help Larry’s Shoes focus on trends in customer service.

Elliot Goodwin, president of Larry’s Shoes, is fortifying his men’s shoe chain for the fierce tug of war looming on the horizon between “traditional” retail outlets and alternative upstarts such as home shopping.

To prepare his 10 stores for the upcoming squeeze on market share, Goodwin has had to reshape several facets of his business. Among the most important has been the remodeling and, in fact, re-engineering of Larry’s Shoes all the way from store interiors to financial budgets.

“It’s really a redefinition of what we think a specialty womens shoes for plantar fasciitis  store should be,” Goodwin said of not only the new prototype for Larry’s, but of the direction the chain is taking on service, advertising and merchandising. “The bulk of what we’re doing is really more brand awareness of Larry’s. We’re trying to establish a relationship and trust in Larry’s.”

A $50,000 consumer research project helped show Larry’s the way — more point-of-sale information, signage, expanded selection and size runs (sizes now range from 5 to 20 instead of 5 to 18,) free amenities such as foot massages, quick “in-and-out” service and professional touches such as business cards. Also, the dapper president has already realigned his advertising costs to impact the customer more directly via in-store events and enhancements.

“We are redefining expenses by what is important to the customer. There’s more value in a cappuccino bar than in Saturday advertising,” Goodwin explained, referring to the cappuccino and juice bar that will be in some remodeled stores. “There has to be excitement. Ten, 15 years down the road, you’re going to be competing with a lot more people. If someone comes into your store, he has to see more than just a department with wide fitting ladies shoes for bunions .”

In the North Dallas unit, the chain’s current flagship that last year was remodeled into a 15,000-square-foot superstore, eight vendor concept shops were introduced into the new Larry’s prototype by Columbus, Ohio-based Retail Design Group. Noted Goodwin: “People get so locked into running businesses based on last year’s numbers. You have to step back and redefine where expenses are going, deciding where it’s best to spend money for the customer.”

The new tactics seem to be working.

The six “redefined” Larry’s, which range from 7,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet, are posting 25 percent sales gains over last year at this time. The North Dallas unit, the only Larry’s currently to have concept shops due to its larger size, is logging 23-25 percent increases, compared with generally flat business prior to the renovation. During peaks — Father’s Day and holidays — the gains shoot up to 28-30 percent. The vendor shops alone, Goodwin maintained, are experiencing 35-38 percent sales advances.

Larry’s plans three new stores for ’95, with one slated to mirror the North Dallas store’s superstore status. One of the smaller stores, designed without concept shops, will be in Houston and the other in a new city that has yet to be determined. The new superstore, a freestanding unit situated on a mall pad, will debut as Larry’s Ft. Worth flagship.

From Concept to Concrete

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Aside from budget and time constraints, the biggest challenge that faced Retail Design Group in designing Larry’s Shoes’ new store prototype was the product itself.

“We had to take a small product and create interest without over-whelming the product,” said David Labus, vice president of the retail design firm whose most famous client is likely The Limited Inc., also based here. Labus’ company made the shoe displays simple, yet bold. Advised Labus: “Make things easy to understand. Make one statement. If you have too many objects, the tennis shoes for high arches get lost.”

Another problem to be solved was the integration yet separation of Larry’s Shoes three main categories — dress, casual and athletic. Concrete, metal and flooring of carpet, wood and stone are common interior elements that tie together the overall image in remodeled stores. Dress shoes, Larry’s best-selling and largest category, are positioned at the back of the stores with the focal point being an eroding concrete and patina wall. “It calls attention to that area…draws people through the store,” Labus explained, adding that incandescent spotlights are trained on the shoe displays. Meanwhile, a “comfortable, slow-paced” atmosphere prevails in the casual area, thanks to natural woods and black-stained cabinets. The cabinets also serve to fill vast amounts of space in the 15,000-square-foot North Dallas superstore, more than twice the size of Larry’s average store. An undulating curved wall, representing movement and vitality, signals the start and end of the athletic department. In the superstore, Labus faced the added challenge of not only filling nearly twice the space of the average Larry’s store, but of incorporating eight vendor concept areas into an existing design. The interior essentials had to remain the same to maintain the Larry’s image, but the shops had to have separate brand identities.

“We did the vendor shops in a way so that they did not interfere with the concept of Larry’s Shoes,” Labus said. “We didn’t want them taking over the store like Nike and Timberland have tended to do in other stores.” As a result, the concept shops were placed within their respective departments and the store’s main material elements are included within them.

And since Larry’s Shoes stressed the importance of add-on sales, accessories were merchandised in cabinets positioned in front of the cash wraps. Sales have shot up 40 percent since the repositioning. Accessories are merchandised in recessed cabinets to avoid the typical retailer’s cluttered and fussy displays, Labus said, which can downgrade a store’s image.

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