Dress Bar At Dress Barn: A Strategic Activation

April 13, 2015

In which I visit Dress Bar, a pop up activation from Dress Barn. That’s right, the strip-mall retailer made a move to Fifth Avenue and their window display actually made me walk right in. How?

Me: “I’m visiting Dress Bar today!”

Colleague: “Dress Barn? Why would you go to Dress Barn?”

Me: “No, Dress BAR”

Colleague: “Oh okay! So what’s Dress Bar?”

Me: “Well, it’s a pop up. From Dress Barn.”

Colleague: “…”

I had this conversation a number of times leading up to my first visit to Dress Bar. Each time it would end in a bit of confusion about whether a pop-up concept from strip-mall retailer Dress Barn could really win over trend-conscious New York City shoppers.

As I was walking up toward Madison Square Park on an errand a few weeks ago I spotted their storefront, and made a note to return later (and Google “Dress Bar”, of course). Admittedly, I knew very little about parent brand Dress Barn going into this. Unsurprising, since as a millennial I fall rather far from their target consumer (35+ “career-women”). After some online research, I get the feeling that Dress Barn falls somewhere below Anne Taylor LOFT in terms of both price and style-consciousness. Armed with my newfound knowledge of the brand, and rather impressed by their website given my memories of poorly lit storefronts glimpsed from afar, I convinced two colleagues to join me at an upcoming Dress Bar brand event, “Sip. Shop. Be Glam.”

We went. We saw. We sipped champagne. The brand really delivered on a “shopping and drinks with your girlfriends” experience. I will say that we were perhaps the youngest attendees, with the average age hovering around 40. The line to check out was constantly busy, and at points it was crowded enough to make it difficult to move. The DJ they hired for the event was an Instagram influencer, an appeal that might have been lost on the audience filling the space, but a strategic tactic nonetheless.

WE ALWAYS SAY YOU CAN’T BE EVERYTHING TOI EVERYONE, AND IT SEEMS LIKE DRESS BARN IS SHARPENING THERI FOCUS

Dress Bar is an effort from Dress Barn to return to being “known for the dress,” as shared with me by a sales person. Will it be successful? I think Dress Bar is a great example of a brand making an effort to expand its target consumer base and build brand equity without alienating its core consumer. I think key to Dress Barn’s success here is their effort to not alienate their current consumer—Dress Bar is a smart evolution precisely because prices have remained stable (as compared to Dress Barn stores), featured styles are trend-conscious while still a bit conservative, and sizes are extremely inclusionary (ranging from 2-24), as is typical of the brand.

The pop-up itself provides an updated shopping experience (collection driven merchandising and iPads for ordering product unavailable on the floor) and a curated group of higher-end products aimed at bringing relevant parts of the Dress Barn brand DNA to a younger and/or more influential consumer who will be key to the brand’s future success. I say “younger”, but I don’t mean “young.” Dress Bar and Dress Barn’s consumer is decidedly not 25 years old, but with this new concept I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve begun to broaden their reach into the upper millennial generation (early 30s).

Perhaps most interesting to me about this entire concept is the push toward shifting the perception of Dress Barn from affordable and practical toward style-driven and higher-end. Of course the product featured is the result of designer-collaborations and a higher price point than much of their other merchandise, which sets the tone, but more compelling is that the way the pop-up shop behaves mimics a higher-end department store (designer appearances, events, alignment with charities / causes, adjacent category collaborations). The space itself is more of an experience shop than simply a “store”, and on that level I think Dress Bar has far outdone many retailers who fail to see the opportunity a physical spaces provides for real consumer engagement and feedback.

I for one am looking forward to seeing Dress Bar interact with New York City through upcoming events – and perhaps a shorter line at their next (fingers crossed) collaboration with Benefit Brow Bar!

Orit O Group founder - Luxury Branding Agency New York City
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