What Do 35-Year-Old Women Want?

As other stores stumble, Bloomie's Quotation boutiques are going after these busy shoppers

Bloomingdale's Inc. (FD ) is pursuing "yummy mommies." That's what the chain has dubbed the stylish 35-to-45-year-olds it's courting with a store-within-a-store boutique called Quotation. These women may have gone up a size post-baby but are adamant that motherhood is not synonymous with looking matronly.

Other retailers have tried and failed to win over this elusive demographic. In January, Gymboree Corp. (GYMB ), known for its children's clothing, shuttered Janeville, its brand for women in their mid-30s and older. Soon after, Gap Inc. (GPS ) announced it would close its Forth & Towne division, which targeted a similar shopper. And American Eagle Outfitters (AEO ) is retooling the women's line at Martin + Osa, its six-month-old chain for the 25-to-40 crowd.

Why does Bloomingdale's think it can prosper where so many have floundered? The company says it's homing in on a slimmer slice of the market: affluent, suburban, casual yet fashionable moms. It's moving aggressively, going from six boutiques in mid-2006 to 16 today, and into all 32 of its outlets by 2008 or '09. Analysts approve of the tighter focus: "With Forth & Towne and Janeville, you didn't know who was buying these clothes and what for," says Adrienne Tennant, a retail analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. (FBR ) "They didn't have an obvious reason for being."

Liz Jones, a Bloomingdale's divisional merchandise manager, and Erica Ruff, a buyer, say they know exactly what the Quotation woman wants. They've lived inside her head since spring of 2005, when Frank Doroff, Bloomingdale's senior executive vice-president, asked them to create a boutique that would appeal to the stylish mothers in his Westchester County (N.Y.) hometown. With input from the marketing and research departments, they discovered a customer who considered the store's classic sportswear brands (Jones New York, Calvin Klein) too formal and found its contemporary sportswear (Juicy Couture, Marc by Marc Jacobs) too young. She shopped at Bloomie's for her family but favored boutiques for herself. She wasn't a clotheshorse but wanted clothes that looked pretty and feminine, with a little flair and a forgiving fit.

The boutiques' department store location should appeal to moms looking for one-stop shopping, says Tony Gao, a marketing professor at Northeastern University. While the look is sleek, with walls featuring quotes from Diana Vreeland and Katharine Hepburn, convenience is key. The clothes, chosen from 20 independent designers and a private label line, are arranged with scenarios in mind--soccer practice, a parent-teacher conference, coffee with friends, or couples' night out.

So far, Doroff says Quotation's double-digit sales growth has "far exceeded our plans." He would not share specific figures or profit numbers. But with space on Bloomie's busy women's sportswear floor at a premium, Quotation must keep proving itself or risk being kicked out of the nest.

By Elizabeth Woyke

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