Bullock's Woman : Specialty Retailer's New Store Has Chic Size-16 Set in Mind

Times Staff Writer

Taking a plunge into the fastest-growing segment of apparel retailing, the Bullock's department store chain is opening a Las Vegas store catering to large-size apparel for women.

The 3,000-square-foot store, to be called Bullock's Woman, is scheduled to open March 14 at the city's Fashion Show Mall, next to a Bullock's department store and not far from a Lane Bryant, the reputed leader in large-size retailing.

"Business (in large-size apparel) has been booming in our stores for three years," Frank Doroff, Bullock's senior vice president for ready-to-wear and accessories, said Thursday. "We saw a big opportunity because we feel that the large-size woman is a loyal customer, likes fashion and has money to spend on her clothes."

Indeed, recent estimates show that the market for large-size women's apparel (Size 16 and up) has grown to more than $8 billion from about $2 billion in 1977.

Back in those days, about all that large women could expect to buy in the way of apparel was "bulletproof, polyester, pull-on pants and maternity blouses," said Carole Shaw, editor of BBW: Big Beautiful Woman, an Encino-based magazine. "There was nothing you could begin to call fashion.

"Designer jeans started the fashion (for big women), when Gloria Vanderbilt and Pierre Cardin came out with those in 1979. That was an amazing breakthrough. They sold like crazy."

Now, more than 2,000 manufacturers, up from about 150 in 1979, have leaped onto this fast-rolling bandwagon, making a full range of products from lingerie to designer dresses, according to industry sources. They include such well-known designers as Albert Nipon, Harve Benard, Evan Picone, Givenchy and Sue Wong.

"It used to be a moderate-to-budget business, with dumb styling," said Roseanne Morrison, a fashion editor at Tobe Associates, a New York-based consultant. "Now, that's completely changed. Retailers realize that the customer is affluent (and is) investing in better styling. That's the growth area of the market."

Shaw estimates that 30 million U.S. women, or 30%, wear Size 16 or over, with 46% between ages 25 and 35, and 35% between 35 and 50.

To try to capture part of this business, Bullock's has targeted a segment of clothing known in the industry as upper-moderate to better in terms of quality and price. That puts it between, say, a Lane Bryant, which focuses on a moderate customer, and Forgotten Woman, an 18-store chain that has been quite successful at selling designer apparel to full-figured customers. Its fiscal 1986 sales of $17 million were up 42% from the year before.

Plans Local Outlets

Doroff said the Bullock's specialty store concept has been in the works for about 1 1/2 years. "We were finding that we were short of space in our current stores for the large-size business," he said. "And we felt that by developing a prototype and putting it in its own environment, we could have a unique business."

The Las Vegas large-size market had proved to be one of the best, he said, adding that the company is trying to pin down leases in the Los Angeles market to open one or two other Bullock's Woman stores this year.

Bullock's--a Los Angeles company that last started a specialty concept in 1929 with the opening of its upscale Bullocks Wilshire store--enters a market with a number of competitors. Lane Bryant, a unit of the Limited Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, opened 180 stores last year and now has about 600 nationwide. The company was losing money when it was bought by the Limited in 1982 and now wins kudos as "the most successful people in the market," according to Edward F. Johnson, an analyst with Johnson Redbook Service in New York.

In two weeks, the chain plans to open a new, 25,000-square-foot flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, outfitted with green and peach marble, sweeping staircases and atriums.

Fast-Growing Segment

Other competitors include Fashion Bug Plus, a division of Charming Shoppes of Bensalem, Pa., which caters to a budget-minded customer, and Woman's World, based in El Cajon, Calif., with moderate to upper-moderate apparel.

In addition, general merchandisers such as J. C. Penney, discounters such as K mart and department stores such as Bullock's and the Broadway have recently started focusing more heavily on large-size apparel.


List represents about 98% of the market.

Company Outlets Lane Bryant 600 (Unit of The Limited) Woman's World 244 16 Plus 231 Catherine's Stout Shoppes 210 (Unit of Campeau Corp.; includes Catherine's, Clothes for Eve and Plus Sizes) Fashion Bug Plus 140 (Unit of Charming Shoppes) Forgotten Woman 18

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