Mark’s targets yummy mummy market
September 24, 2012 Francine Kopun Business Reporter
Mark’s Work Wearhouse, a western retailer that built its reputation selling workboots and flannel shirts to men in the Alberta oilfields, is flirting with fashion.
The chain is undergoing a rebrand, being kicked off in Toronto on Tuesday by celebrity stylist Brad Goreski, a Port Perry native with his own reality television show, It’s a Brad Brad World, on Bravo.
While Goreski personally favours bold sartorial choices – the invitation to the Mark’s Toronto launch features him in an orange jacket, pink shirt and yellow shorts – Mark’s isn’t moving into high fashion, said chief operating officer Harry Taylor.
Mark’s still wants to be the go-to retailer for the working man. It also wants their wives and working women to shop Mark’s for office-casual and casual wear and yoga gear, and Taylor is betting they will be willing to pay more than discount prices for clothing that is comfortable, durable and stylish.
The move puts Mark’s in closer competition with department stores like Sears.
“The fashionistas aren’t shopping with us and never will. There’s only so far we think we can travel,” said Taylor, ruling out cocktail dresses at Mark’s.
“We’re not trying to overdo it; we’re not trying to be something that we can’t be.”
Goreski has been hired to speak to the evolution of the Mark’s brand, which does not include orange jackets and yellow shorts for men. He will be styling three looks put together using pieces from Mark’s fall collection.
Calgary locations where the Mark’s concept was introduced last year have seen increases in sales of almost seven per cent, with women’s wear being the highest driver of that growth.
But to be successful, the idea has to fly in Canada’s biggest retail market, the GTA, where 40 stores are being rebranded.
“For us, Toronto is a key, key market. For us this is ground zero,” said Taylor.
The goal is to rebrand all 383 locations in Canada within the next two-to-three years.
Customer satisfaction ratings are up in the rebranded stores in Calgary. Traffic is up in every store that has been updated without affecting the bottom line on work wear, according to Taylor.
Retail consultant Maureen Atkinson, of J.C. Williams Group, said expanding the customer base makes sense for Mark’s.
“If they’re looking for growth, they have to find it somewhere,” she said.
She said Mark’s doesn’t have the same heritage in the east that it does in the west, where it was founded in 1977. It was originally known as Mark’s Men’s Work Wearhouse. Canadian Tire bought the chain in 2001.
“I think the GTA has never had the same sort of attitude towards Mark’s as Calgary would have or Edmonton. People from those markets think of Mark’s as being theirs, whereas here, Mark’s is just one of many,” said Atkinson.
The rebranded Mark’s on Eglinton Ave. East near Warden Ave. has been rebranded. It used to be dark and cramped, and merchandise was often strewn around the store by customers trying to find sizes.
The space has been doubled and divided into dead-easy sections – men’s casual apparel and women’s casual apparel to the right and left, footwear and industrial wear at the back. Yoga pants are stacked like Lululemon. Women’s footwear has been doubled in terms of size and the buy.
There’s even a caftan for $49.99.
The store aisles are wide and easy to navigate. Wardrobe specialists are available for consultation in every store. The fitting rooms are bigger, with more hooks and mirrors for women who want more space and better lighting than men when they try on clothes, says Christina Cook, associate vice-president of operations for the GTA.
They’ve even made the women’s wear easier to reach.
The new stores feature ramps for testing work boots on roof shingles, cement, wood or rocks and giant freezers, where customers can test out winter wear. The freezers simulate wind chill down to minus 40 degrees.
Discount shoppers may experience sticker shock: The no-iron pants and skirts are $59.99 each. Men’s short-sleeve t-shirts are $16.99. But they’re guaranteed not to fade or shrink for 50 washes.
Mark’s emphasizes performance wear – clothes that can keep wearers warm and dry in cold, wet weather, yoga pants that can withstand 100 washes without fading, shrinking or piling.
Taylor thinks they’ve got the pricing right, once durability is factored in.
“We’re never going to be the low-cost provider of apparel. We want to be good value.”