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Columns

Old Navy trying new look

By MARK ALBRIGHT, On Retail
Published November 21, 2007


Among the features of the new Old Navy in Tyrone Square is a brighter exterior. The company hopes the overhaul makes the chain more fashionable and will boost slumping sales.
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[Martha Rial | Times]
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[Martha Rial | Times]
Looking through the front window of the newly opened Old Navy at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg shows a flashier setup for the retail clothing chain. This remodeled look, the first of its kind, includes paneling and a rock garden.

There's a reason an Old Navy that opened in St. Petersburg's Tyrone Square Mall this week looks dramatically different than the rest of the chain.

It's the national debut of a slick store design the chain's new management hopes will help reverse a deep sales slump that's well into its third year.

Old Navy, a unit of Gap Inc., boasted sales of $6.9-billion in 2006 that were actually larger than the Gap chain itself.

Old Navy says nothing's sacred in this overhaul. Interior store signs even refer to Old Navy by the letters, ON. While Old Navy stores have been sparse affairs with bare concrete floors, unfinished ceilings and utilitarian racks, this one oozes youthful San Francisco cool.

Varnished plywood paneling. A rock garden that sprouts a fake bamboo forest. A wall of shimmering silver beads. Pink pedestal tables. Colorful murals that show off the clothes and change with the season.

It's all part of the new vision of Dawn Robertson, an Alabama-born retailing vet who once ran the biggest department chain in Australia. She's trying to make Old Navy fashionable again among 22- to 30-year-olds at discount store prices 30 percent cheaper than rivals American Eagle or Hollister.

Like other discount stores flocking to link designers to its store brands, Robertson landed Todd Oldham as creative director. She cut in half - to 28 weeks - the time lag between the design board and the stores, although she can get hot goods turned around in as fast as eight.

She also tarted up Old Navy's denim fit for women to Diva low rise, Flirt (mid-rise) and Sweetheart (classic rise).

The splurge of ON appearing in 3-foot shiny silver letters doesn't mean Old Navy is giving up on a name founded 13 years ago. Or that the look of the new store in St. Petersburg will spread.

"Right now it's a test," said spokesman Greg Rossiter.

Keeping it Christmas

Christian groups are keeping the heat on retailers who - in the zeal to not offend anyone - have been excising the word "Christmas" from their holiday lexicon.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Linens-N-Things, Macy's Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Target Corp. this year have been lauded on a "naughty and nice" list put out by Liberty Counsel. The Orlando nonprofit law firm has links to Liberty University, which was founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell.

Many stores added the word "Christmas" to their trim-a-tree department signs to appease critics, although Wal-Mart also is piping church hymns on store PA systems, selling Jesus Action figures in 400 stores, and reinforced last year's decree that door greeters can say Merry Christmas if they choose.

Home Depot Inc., Kmart Corp., Kohl's and Nordstrom were rapped this time for going overboard using the word "holidays." Nordstrom is being asked to add Christmas to its "countdown to Dec. 25" ads. Lowe's apologized and will start calling them Christmas trees instead of "family trees."

"We've made significant progress," said Matthew Staver, Liberty Counsel's chairman.

Your voice on gift card

Think gift cards are impersonal? American Eagle Outfitters offers a fix: a recordable gift card.

Push a button to record a personal message for playback by the recipient.

Seasonal musical backgrounds are available: (Donde Esta Santa Claus by Guster;We Wish You a Merry Christmas by Relient K, and Yule Shoot Your Eye Out by Fall Out Boy).

The apparel chain offers the feature free on gift cards loaded with $75 or more.

Yoga wear at Dillard's

Yoga, Pilates and meditation fitness fans are about to get their own department at Dillard's.

The department store signed up six lines of yoga wear for the boutique appropriately named Tranquility.

So fitness fans who had been directed to the activewear racks will have nongymlike choices.

"Women who dress for the health club want something that looks presentable running errands on the same trip," said Andrea Pablo, a Dillard's spokeswoman.

The first two boutiques open in Westfield Countryside and International Plaza this week and more stores in January.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

[Last modified November 20, 2007, 22:58:26]


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