US casualwear chain Aéropostale has opened a flagship store on Times Square, with all of the razzmatazz you’d expect in the location.
Back in the day there was a carmaker called British Leyland which had a whole series of cars that looked more or less the same but carried different badges on their bonnets. And depending on which badge you bought, you were able to pay more or less. In marketing textbooks this is what was once referred to as badge engineering - creating desire from having the appropriate brand plastered across a product.
British Leyland died a death, but the principle of segmenting a market in this manner is alive and kicking in New York where young fashion giants American Eagle, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch and Aéropostale all offer more or less the same product but with different labels and branding.
The new Aéropostale flagship on Times Square is more or less the bargain basement of the polo shirt, jeans, T-shirts and hoodie brigade. It opened at the end of October on the site of a former MTV studio, and with two floors and about 19,000 sq ft of selling space it is one of the area’s larger retailers.
In spite of the relatively modest pricing on the garments, the store pulls no punches in terms of both layout and design, while the huge digital billboard that forms the upper part of the store frontage is a big shout even in a location where big shouts are the norm.
Aéropostale is a nationwide predominantly mall-based retailer, but its headquarters is in New York, making it the local act vying for the custom of tweens and teenagers.
Key looks and merchandise
As in all the other stores of its type in the US, you know what you are going to see long before you walk through the door of an Aéropostale store. This flagship is no exception. There is, naturally, a denim shop, known in this store as the ‘jean library’, and a large portion of the space is devoted to selling variants on the T-shirts, polo shirts and hoodies that form the basis of this kind of offer.
A strong emphasis is placed on the fact that this is a New York retailer. A portion of the store is called the SoHo T-shirt shop and much of the merchandise bears either the letters NY, or graphic references to Big Apple landmarks.
And naturally, no store of this kind would be complete without the requisite checked shirts, and at this level as well Aéropostale does not disappoint. Everything on view is cheaper than the competition and multibuy deals are on hand at every turn.
On the day of Drapers’ visit, the store was filled with early teens accompanied by their parents and was a true United Nations in terms of the number of languages being spoken.
In terms of value for money and on-trend product it is hard to find fault with Aéropostale, especially when compared with its competitors, other than that there is a real sense of predictability about what is being sold. The same charge however could be laid at the door of any of the other merchants dealing in this part of the fashion sector.
The other point about US casualwear retailing is the visual merchandising, which tends to be about abundance and colour blocking. Each of the styles on offer in Aéropostale comes in multiple colourways and these are offered on low circular wooden fixtures that allow the customer to plough through the sizes unhampered by the very keen store staff.
Looking at the store from the outside, there is a US lumberjack theme, right down to the check-shirted mannequins standing in piles of fake snow and surrounded by freshly chopped and neatly stacked piles of logs. There is no more American store on Times Square and the window display, although simple, goes a long way towards making you want to step inside. All of this is helped, of course, by the constantly changing three-panel digital billboard across which images of attractive-looking young people wearing the product constantly scroll.
While the exterior is amazing, the interior is reasonably standard for the sector, although housekeeping standards are high.
The US is not like the UK. Once you get used to it, you expect the store greeter and the army of staff on hand to help you find your size if you really can’t be bothered to rake your way through the nearest pile of T-shirts (in which your size will undoubtedly be on offer). At this level Aéropostale delivers, but the service when you come the checkout leaves a little to be desired.
The store was busy last Sunday, the day of Drapers’ visit, and there was a queue at the till. Yet in spite of the fact there were plenty of staff on the shopfloor, only two had been assigned to the cash and wrap and they were obviously under pressure, as the lack of smiles and chat attested. A mite underwhelming really.
The major point about Aéropostale Times Square is the store frontage, but once inside, a lot has been done to make this an interesting space too. Whether it’s the white-tiled wall as you enter or the outsize red Aéropostale logo that
is attached to the wall as you travel up the escalator, there is plenty to divert the gaze.
But what really entertains is the space that allows you to walk in front of the digital sign as it weaves into the store from the outside. This means shoppers can look out over Times Square. Everybody who visited the upper floor was heading straight for this and taking photos of themselves in the space. Outside, onlookers were taking snaps of them doing so. The internal navigation signage was clear and appealingly retro at the same time, and apart from the curious lion couchant (a reference, apparently, to the New York Public Library) positioned next to the jean library, it looked as if everything had been well thought through. Prices on the tickets may have been low, but this did not feel like a cheap store.
Would I buy?
At these prices, it would be impolite not to do so. Two heavily worked T-shirts for less than $25, including New York’s punishing taxes, seemed a bargain and your correspondent exited carrying an Aéropostale shopping bag. In spite of the sluggish queue at the checkout, the majority of those who entered also made a purchase, offering a clue about why this retailer is a success.
Aéropostale may be close to the bottom of the pile when it comes to price, but both its offer and store ambience are such that it more than merits its place among the casualwear giants. The Times Square outlet is a fitting flagship for a chain aimed at shoppers with a limited budget but who still want a little slice of casual America.
Location 1515 Broadway at 45th Street, New York
Size 19,000 sq ft
Number of floors Two
Standout feature The three-panel LED sign on the store exterior and interior
Design GHA design studios
Opened October 2010