The Lord & Taylor brand is making its return to New York, after its iconic flagship store on Fifth Avenue went dark earlier this year, following more than a century in business.
Under its new owner, rental service Le Tote, Lord & Taylor will open a pop-up shop in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, at 138 Wooster Street, from Dec. 11 through Christmas Eve. The shop, clocking in at about 2,400 square feet, is just a fraction of what used to be roughly 700,000 square feet of dresses, hand bags and shoes that Lord & Taylor operated on Fifth Avenue.
Le Tote completed its acquisition of Lord & Taylor from Hudson's Bay for $100 million in cash earlier this year. Hudson's Bay still owns the department store chain's real estate, but Le Tote received three years of free rent for 38 locations, with five stores planned to shut.
Hudson's Bay said it sold Lord & Taylor to boost its balance sheet and focus investments on its Saks Fifth Avenue business and Hudson's Bay stores in Canada.
Now, Le Tote is focused on expanding Lord & Taylor's audience to reach younger consumers and make sure they don't think of the stores as "where my mom shops," according to Le Tote co-founder and president Brett Northart.
"We want [this SoHo store] to signal we are investing in the business. It's not going away," Northart said in a phone interview. "This pop-up ... is a way for us to really collect feedback and understand what people are looking for." He added that it will help Le Tote determine what it does with its other real estate, whether it shutters some larger locations to open smaller ones or carves out space in larger stores for other uses, down the road.
"If we keep doing things the same way they have been done, ... [we're] going to fail," Northart said.
At the SoHo pop-up shop, customers will find an assortment of merchandise including Lord & Taylor's famous private-label cashmere for men and women, jewelry, make-up, gift sets for the holidays, as well as a small section devoted to Le Tote's clothing rental service.
In acquiring Lord & Taylor, Northart said his team's goal is also to introduce more people to Le Tote and the concept of renting clothes. He said four Le Tote rental studios have already been added to existing Lord & Taylor department stores.
The traditional Lord & Taylor customer "isn't as familiar with the idea that you can even rent clothing," Northart said. "A lot of people don't even know we exist. There is a lot of education we have to do."
Though it's operating Lord & Taylor as a private business now, and won't have public scrutiny from investors, Le Tote still faces the same challenges that have plagued other department stores.
Sears and Barneys New York have both gone bankrupt in roughly the past year and a half. Macy's and J.C. Penney are struggling to grow sales. Shoppers are increasingly turning to the internet to buy perfume, purses and pants, bypassing a trip to the mall. That or they're going directly to brands like Coach and Nike and skipping department stores.
So Le Tote knows it must give customers a reason to seek out Lord & Taylor.
"Customers don't want to get lost in a box," Northart said. "That ship has sailed."