April 29, 2008

can’t see the forest for the trees.


normally, when a retailer decides to branch out, it means a slight tweeking of a winning formula. american eagle took its casual looks to a more grown-up audience, abercrombie went to the beach and the city, and gap tried (unsucessfully) to bring chic to the forty-something woman (forth & towne). now, urban outfitters, already with anthropologie and free people doing well, has launched a new store concept called terrain. the company purchased j. franklin styer nurseries, a popular garden center in concordville (right outside philly on baltimore pike) and will transform it into “a local garden center into an experience that celebrates the beauty and abundance of nature while offering an eclectic mix of garden-inspired products tailored for the contemporary customer.” interesting. so a company used to selling shirts that say “obama is my homeboy” is getting into the home garden business?

along with a cushy lounge serving la colombe coffee, terrain will sell books, garden tools, flowers and plants, plus will continue to offer styer’s construction and landscape services. and therein lies the key word…”service.” urban outfitters is moving from the retail business to the service business. styer’s has a built-in customer base (it’s been in business since 1890), and by “urbanizing” it, women who shop at anthropologie or with her kids at urban will now bring her husband to terrain. and unlike home depot or lowe’s, which prides itself on being a male haven, terrain will be more female-friendly.

so what’s the downside? well there’s that nasty thing called a recession that’s looming, not to mention the fact that many thirty-somethings (like myself) don’t own a home and therefore, don’t have need for gardening tools or landscapers. but urban’s cfo john keeyes is confident and told the philadelphia inquirer that terrain’s customers are “exceptionally wealthy and like to fix up their homes.” after the recent closure of forth & towne and the slowdown in retail, i will be interested to see how terrain fares in its new “terrain.”

terrain sign by the design lady (aka rachel robertson); inside pic from ohjoy.blogspot.com