When Lord & Taylor closed its Fifth Avenue flagship in New York last year, it felt like the end of an era. After all, New York’s storied Fifth Avenue also saw the closure of Henri Bendel in 2018 and now this year, Barney’s is facing the same fate.
But, like other once storied retail brands, nothing’s ever really gone. Toys R Us came back this holiday season, both online and offline, and Sears is somehow still around. Now, after Le Tote acquired Lord & Taylor earlier this year for a reported $100 million, the clothing subscription brand is bringing the famous shop back to Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood today—but only for two weeks.
“It’s really a way for us to start communicating with a different type of customer, to take a swing at building a smaller-sized store,” said Brett Northart, founder of Le Tote. “We’re taking one piece of this bundle and putting it in a store that’s tiny and offers a targeted experience to a specific customer for a short period of time.”
The store, located at 138 Wooster St., is focused on selling cashmere, as well as some beauty and skincare sets. In the 2,000-square-foot shop, Le Tote is set to have a small section introducing customers to what it is and how to use the service. Northart said the pop-up is a multifaceted opportunity for both Lord & Taylor and Le Tote.
On the Lord & Taylor side, it’s a chance to see what the brand’s customers want and where they’d ideally like a store in the city. For Le Tote, the brand gets an opportunity to acquire new customers—who, Northart said, are already shopping brands from Lord & Taylor and aren’t all that different.
“Theres’ a lot overlap in the 35-55 age range for both brands,” Northart said. “Our core customer is right in that sweet spot.”
While this is a pop-up for now, Northart said Le Tote wants to bring Lord & Taylor back to Manhattan—and beyond. As part of the acquisition, Le Tote took on Lord & Taylor’s retail footprint of 38 stores. Northart said the company wants to expand Lord & Taylor beyond the Northeast corridor and come back to cities including Texas, Chicago, Denver and Seattle. To do that, it’s taking a Target-like approach and testing its existing stores to see “what works for our customer in what market,” then opening up new shops with a much smaller square footage.
“With the pop-up, what we’re saying to our customers is we’re not leaving Manhattan,” Northart said. “We thought it was really important that very soon after closing the deal, we reestablished a presence. Now, if we reestablish a larger presence in the future, I also think the location will probably be very different. It’s going to be a smaller, more targeted approach that really speaks to the greatest things that we offer, and it also gives our customers a seamless experience where they can walk in, get what they want, and walk out.”
As part of this transition, Le Tote now faces the dubious transition of making Lord & Taylor relevant to customers who don’t merely resemble baby boomers. Northart said the pop-up is part of shifting Lord & Taylor’s “point of view” and telling existing and potential customers that it’s a new era for the brand. By devoting a small section of the pop-up to Le Tote, Brett said it signals to customers that the brand is trying to change.
“Customers don’t buy any of that unless you’re demonstrating you’re changing,” Northart said. “There’s a lot of customers at Lord & Taylor that are renting things that are actually being sold at Lord & Taylor. They don’t think of Lord & Taylor as a place they should be shopping, but it’s about demonstrating to them through things like having a pop-up in SoHo and not being at a 700,000-square-foot box on Fifth Avenue.”
Northart said the two brands are integrating with each other’s technology stacks for the first 12 months to create a more seamless online experience, process returns faster and gather more data. At Le Tote, Northart said the average customer receives about 100 items a year and rates 80% of the items, giving Le Tote a deeper look into what silhouettes work, what brands are loved, and other granular details that he wants to use to further optimize Lord & Taylor’s item selection.
“This is like structural data and very actionable data, so we can build this very deep profile on a customer,” Northart said. “If you take that lens and apply it to Lord & Taylor, we’re going to take a much more thoughtful approach to the brands that we carry, the SKUs that we carry, and why we’re carrying them.
“We’re going to look at the data and we’re going to talk to customers, get out there and have our merchants, store managers, store associates have a tight feedback lop with customers, and then make decisions.”