Country Clutter Chain Adopts a Second Name: Apricot Lane
Executives at Country Visions - the parent company of the Country Clutter franchise chain that tenants outlet and full-price retail centers - got a jolt in 2003 from an unexpected source: a potential landlord.
The shock came when the owner of an upscale, conventional retail property in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip rejected the idea of leasing store space for a Country Clutter unit, explaining that the chain's name just didn't fit with the mall's tony image.
While a tad insulting, the developer's decision was a wake-up call for the "country" themed gift store chain that operates 60 units in 26 states in outlet and non-outlet projects.
But even before that, there had been internal discussion as to whether the Country Clutter name was a bit dowdy, given that the popularity of the country-style interior design theme may have peaked.
One important reason for a possible name change: The chain's merchandise mix has been evolving. "Over the years, Country Clutter's product mix broadened into many categories that really didn't fit the 'country' theme, such as Beanie Babies, Italian charms, jewelry and fashion accessories, " says Ken Petersen, the founder and CEO of the Vacaville, California based chain. Petersen owns one-third of the privately held chain, as do the retailer's president, Scott Jacobs, and its COO, Tom Brady. There were also cultural considerations, says Peteren. "A movement to remove clutter from your life has been publicized on the cover of magazines, the subject of talk shows and the gift industry trends are suggesting that our customer wants to 'unclutter' their lives and that 'dustibles' are out."
After sifting through thousands of names, company executives settled on a new name: Apricot Lane. "It was a tough decision for us, because we were pretty attached to the Country Clutter name," says Petersen. "It was an important move for us."
But it's up to franchisees to decide whether to name their stores Country Clutter or Apricot Lane, depending on what works best for their merchandise taste and the demographic market they live in.
For example, while many new and exisiting franchisees are making the name change to Apricot Lane, stores in such states as Pennsylvania and Tennessee - where the country trend thrives - are holding fast to the chain's original name, Country Clutter.
Why Apricot Lane?
"Apricot Lane gives a good first impression and evokes positive associations with the brand," says Petersen. "Apricot Lane was selected because it's unique, inviting, draws interest, solicits curiosity, has a boutique feeling and is more contemporary. It's non-restirictive in terms of what kind of merchandise a store can carry, has an upscale, classy feel, and is at the top of the alphabet."
Besides dreaming up a new name, Country Visions has introduced a new store design, a new merchandise plan and better margin opportunities.
"These changes allow current stores to capture a larger market within their respective area by expanding past the country themes to begin carrying a broader mix," says Petersen. "It also attracts more prospects interested in opening an Apricot Lane. In addition, these changes helped to open the door to gift-store conversions that previously were stalled due to the existing retailer's resistance to become a 'country' store."
The new name, the updated store design and other enhancements were introduced at the company's franchisee convention in Atlanta in January, says Petersen, and were all well received.
The chain's new store design features a complete custom fixture program developed and sourced in China, including a revamped cash wrap, jewelry cases, wall units, nesting tables, pedestals and accessory displays.
The meeting also detailed the chain's merchandise evolution that started when the company began to sell Italian charm bracelets a few years ago. Charms expanded into jewelry and jewelry grew into fashion accessories, which today represent 20 percent of the chain's merchandise mix for new stores.
"This new category mix allows us to capture a broader customer base," says Petersen.
Other new non-country merchandise categories and their percentage of total inventory include spa (6 percent), baby (3 percent), pet (3 percent) and home fragrance (4 percent).
The first Apricot Lane store in an outlet center opened June 1 in Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove, Ga., and another was set to open a month later in the Tanger center in Commerce, Ga. A handful of Apricot Lane stores in conventional retail environments have also opened, and a few Country Clutter stores have been converted to the new name.
For now, Petersen says both names will be used, depending on the wishes of franchisees.
"As a company, we're positioned to use both names," Petersen says. "Apricot Lane will continue to thrive, and we will continue to make the Country Clutter name available when it makes sense.
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