To Lure Plus-Size Shoppers, One Retailer Will Scrap Plus-Size Department

Meijer Inc. to integrate larger-sized clothes into main women’s racks

By IMANI MOISE for the Wall Street Journal
One big retailer is trying to reduce the stigma of being a plus-size shopper—and boost its apparel sales—by bringing larger sized clothing into the rest of the store.

Michigan-based Meijer Inc. will integrate its plus-size department into the women’s department, placing so-called straight sizes and extended sizes on the same racks. The concept, already in practice in 15 stores, will be rolled out to all 230 stores by early 2017. It means the majority of styles will be offered in everything from a size small to XXXL.

“We really felt all customers should have the exact same experience at Meijer,” said Annette Repasch, vice president of Softlines. “Not only by style, but by price and by location.” Traditionally plus-size sections have been relegated to the back of the stores and usually only offer conservative clothing, she added.
Plus-size apparel has been a bright spot in the retail industry during a time where customers are more likely to spend on gadgets and restaurants than clothes. The NPD Group estimates that plus-size apparel spending will reach $20.4 billion this year, up 17% from 2013 and is growing twice as fast as the overall U.S. apparel market.

The segment is poised to continue growing at a strong clip, especially as a new study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education found that the average American woman is now a size 16-18, up from the previous consensus of a size 14. NPD estimates that the percentage of teens buying plus-size clothes will reach 34% this year, up from 19% in 2012.
For Meijer, the transition means the chain will have to absorb some costs. Manufacturers often charge more to produce plus-size clothing because it requires more materials and more labor. “We aren’t getting any special prices from our vendors,” Ms. Repasch said. “We are averaging it out and internally taking those costs.” But the company anticipates saving on floor space.

The changes by mainstream fashion retailers could mean trouble for companies like Ashley Stewart Inc. that specialize in plus sizes. “For every retailer that comes in, there’s one that goes out,” said Ashley Stewart Chief Executive James Rhee. “Right now plus is getting a lot of attention, but the companies have to really commit to the strategy.”

Meijer rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is also changing how it prices some extended size clothing. For example, a checkered flannel shirt the retailer expects to be a hot holiday seller will be $8 in all sizes, said Deanah Baker, senior vice president of apparel for Wal-Mart. It used to cost $11.76 in extended sizes and $9.76 in smaller sizes.

One problem affecting brick and mortar, and one-stop-shopping companies like Meijer and Wal-Mart is floor space. “For every SKU that you add to plus size, that space has to come from somewhere,” Mr. Rhee said.

Earlier this year, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, pulled plus-size collections out of several New York stores. The Swedish fast-fashion retailer said it removed those sections because the company was expanding into new categories like home goods and the stores couldn’t dedicate enough floor space for all of its concepts. The collection is still available online.
This article was written by IMANI MOISE for The Wall Street Journal