• Cecile Corral

Stein Mart Pushes Up New Home Rollout

Jacksonville, Fla. — Seasoned home executive Kassie Jones and her team have managed to push Stein Mart's home department reinvention project about two months ahead of schedule, and more than half of all units have already been remade.

“We were presented the opportunity to create a new format to roll out to all 261 stores,” she told HTT during an exclusive visit to headquarters for a preview of the new home department presentation. “It's been exciting because it's based on a vision we all had very early on, and we'll be able to accomplish it by the end of March.”

The original launch date was scheduled for late May or early June.

Today, 60% of total units have converted the home textiles section, which consists of bedding, bath, decorative pillows and small floor coverings. The entire chain has already converted its gift areas, comprising mainly hard goods with the exception of table linens and a small assortment of kitchen textiles.

Jones joined Stein Mart last May as its vp, general merchandise manager. She came from Home Shopping Network (HSN), where she was senior vp, gmm. Prior to that she was with The Great Indoors as vp/gmm for home, and earlier she worked at Federated's Burdines, Lazarus and Rich's chains.

Stein Mart's new look in home centers on lifestyle themes that address two customer types, which the retailer has identified as key.

Both are critical. The first is its core shopper, “a very loyal customer,” Jones explained, between 35 and 55 years old, a professional working as a teacher or in an administrative position, with an annual household income of more than $50,000. She visits Stein Mart at least once every two weeks, “constantly looking for newness,” Jones continued.

“She has an incredible taste level and loves traditional and opulent looks. She enjoys refined living, but wants looks that are well priced. She shops Stein Mart for all categories, but in the last few years has focused more on ready-to-wear and gifts, and less on home.”

The second leading Stein Mart customer can be somewhat younger, but more importantly is inclined to casual looks and relaxed lifestyles. “We overlooked her to a degree in the recent past, but we're trying to come on stronger to her now,” Jones said. “We're trying to strike more of a balance between our attention to her and our other core customer.”

To appeal to these two key shopper types, the company created color stories, as opposed to style themes.

“We thought is would be important: to show her how to transition into the different seasons,” said Sean McGrath, dmm. Formerly buyer for women's casual sportswear, McGrath was moved to the home department six months ago to manage the two-pad gifts area. “We want to make her feel comfortable about the seasonal purchases she has already made, but give her new color and design options in each cycle that refresh her look,” he said.

“We can enhance the life of the products she has already bought with fresh new merchandise in our mix.”

Stein Mart is moving up the dates of its major seasonal resets in line with its ready-to-wear offerings, so that both are on the same sequence.

“We're working earlier with our vendors,” explained Libby Newland, dmm, linens. She joined Stein Mart in July from HSN, where she worked with Jones as the TV shopping channel's bedding buyer. “We give them our input about our color stories,” she said.

The plan calls for new spring introductions to roll out in December and January, when the core basic components make their debut. Then in February and March, “at the heart of the season,” Jones said, the retailer infuses this selection with new but related color stories to create freshness on the floor. When April and May arrive, the prior color stories will be marked down to make room for a new but, again, related palette. Finally, in June and July, yet another color scheme is introduced to the section, while the next seasonal launch for the fall begins cooking.

In between, to “keep [the shoppers'] eye on other areas,” the retailer is plugging shorter-life design sets into its assortment, Newland said.

“The core line for the season remains the same but we're adding some fresh changes every 60 days to layer the look,” McGrath explained. “We're giving it more of a one-eye approach from a decorator's point of view, as opposed to having separate buyers building separate assortments.”

Stein Mart's home department comprises seven buyers, all of whom work closely together, under the direction of Newland and McGrath, from a series of style and color boards to create synergy across all categories.

The retailer's merchandise mix has been altered as part of the reinvention, with enhancements in some categories and edits in others.

There are now three queen beds fully dressed displayed in vignette settings on the linens pad. They replace six mini-bed displays. Behind each bed display, all related components are shelved for easy access.

“Now, the customer comes in and buys the complete bed set,” Jones said. “She's coming in and saying, 'That's my bedroom' and taking the whole thing home with her.”

The decorative pillow assortment has been expanded by 25% to include more looks throughout the home, not just the bedroom, Newland remarked. “We've moved decorative pillows to a much stronger site on the back wall that the shopper can see from the time she walks into the store,” she said. “It's a category the customer likes, and one she is always looking to for a quick change to update her look.”

In sheets, Stein Mart has moved up to 1,000-TC goods, but has opted to keep this assortment to a minimum because of the limited color options. There are four colors available for its 800-TC sheet sets and six colors plus a cotton sateen stripe for its 600-TC sets. A bonus is the addition to two extra pillow cases in all of these high thread-count sets.

Also in bedding, Stein Mart has added six- and eight-piece comforter sets that include matching decorative pillows.

A major change is a shift to more basics versus fashion, particularly in bath towels — a category Stein Mart previously had focused more on embellished looks. While half of the back wall in home is dedicated to decorative pillows and solid-colored coverlets that come as four-piece sets, the rest of that wall features a spectrum of solid colored bath towels, anchored by a core colorway that is enhanced seasonally with spots of new solid hues.

Other bath expansions taking place are in the accessories category, with “slightly more” offerings.

But the area rug category is no longer a part of Stein Mart's home assortment. Instead, the retailer is focused on 2-x-3, 3-x-5 and 4-x-6 sizes that are merchandised within each vignette, and not separately as its own section.

Furniture is more prevalent, with many “occasional chairs,” small side tables, small table-and-two-chair sets, head boards for the bed and upholstered benches throughout the area. “Furniture is going to be an important component of our business going forward,” Jones revealed.

The gift pad is anchored at the four corners by color- and design-specific vignettes, each of which is closed in with new metal-and-glass shelving that is stocked with hard decorative pieces related to each theme. Framed artwork is a category that has grown in the gift area from one to two double-sided fixtures.

On the second gift pad are candles, floral, and more accessories, as well as a healthy assortment of tabletop, glassware and some flatware. Table linens and kitchen textiles have appropriately been relocated to this area from the linens section for logical cross-merchandising and easy decorating for the customer.

Related to the short-life design stories are the “interruptive” vignettes, as Jones and her team refer to these occasional displays found in the gift pads. These mini displays change out every 30 to 60 days to offer smaller alternative looks.

Stein Mart's home department is still not brand-focused. But Jones and her team are exploring several brand options “we'd like to work on for next year,” she said. Price-wise, Jones admitted the average ticket is “changing somewhat,” but she said Stein Mart is now delivering more quality and value in its assortment.

“We've increased value, updated the fashion and we've still managed to keep our goods incredibly affordable for our customers,” Jones said.

Direct sourcing is still not part of Stein Mart's procurement process, due mainly to some hurdles related to store operations. “We're sorting through that before we can explore going that route,” Jones said.

In the meantime, the retailer has maintained strong relationships with its core vendor partners, working closely with them on the colors and designs the retailer is looking to convey to its customers, while also adding more value and better quality to products.

Cecile CorralCecile Corral | Senior Product Editor, Home Textiles Today

Cecile B. Corral has been a product editor with Home Textiles Today since late 2000. She covers the area and accent rug, kitchen textiles, table linens, beach towels, decorative bath and decorative pillow categories, as well as some retail subjects.

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