Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Sears sets up its own Fashion tent, hopes to wow the crowds

September 10, 2008

sears.jpgThe big white tent that houses New York City’s Fashion Week was joined by another, smaller tent on Wednesday. Set up behind the main event, in a corner of Bryant Park, Sears erected what it calls a “lifestyle exhibit.” Also housed under a white tent, the meandering exhibit was meant to showcase Sears’  brands – well-established names such as Kenmore appliances and more recent products like a new clothing line by rapper LL Cool J.

The tent was divided into rooms with themes like “Alpha Dog” that featured a DieHard motorcycle, and “Boho Grunge,” that had mannequins playing Rock Band.

Sears is certainly not the first retailer to try to raise its chic quotient by hosting an event in coordination with New York’s Fashion Week. In a memorable attempt to wow the masses, Wal-Mart held a fashion show in a Times Square studio during Fashion Week in 2005 to showcase its apparel. The location was chosen to make the show accessible to the public.

But low-priced retailers and Fashion Week have not always mixed well. In early 2007, Wal-Mart ended its Fashion Week participation after its shoppers proved more interested in basic, affordable clothes than trendy fashions like skinny jeans.

Sears said its tent was meant to wow the masses. But around 1 pm the tent was largely empty, except for a small crowd that had gathered to snap pictures with Dr 90210′s Robert Rey, who sells Shapewear at Sears. There was little signage on the tent explaining what was inside, leaving many in Bryant Park to walk straight by the exhibit.

Once inside, there were few mentions of Sears and nothing to explain to the visitor that all of the items on display were available for purchase at the retailer. Instead, the flyer being handed out to passers-by touted the appearances of Dr Robert Rey and LL Cool J.

Sears spokeswoman Amy Dimond said downplaying Sears’ brand was intentional. She said the tent was meant to “show the lifestyle that’s achievable at Sears” and was aimed at getting shoppers to “think about us in a different way.” Traffic in the tent had been “really good,” she said, and she expected a crowd at 5pm, when LL Cool J would arrive to sign autographs.

No matter how Sears ultimately judges the tent’s success, it did make one visitor extremely happy. Louisa Robbins, who lives in Yardville, NJ, said she was in Manhattan to visit her dentist and happened by the tent after her appointment. Clutching an autographed picture of Dr Rey, the 49-year-old mother of two said she was thrilled to get to take her picture with the plastic surgeon.

“Who knows,” she said, with a big grin on her face. “I may even get an operation myself.”

(Photo: Reuters)

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