Forever 21 Plans Valley Expansion

July 7, 2009 11:54:02 PM PDT
The music is loud, the styles are trendy, and the prices are cheap. In its 25 years, retailer Forever 21 has found a loyal customer base among fashion savvy women of all ages. "We come here about once a week. They always have different stuff. It seems like they always get new shipments in," said 18 year old Danielle Saldivar of Madera."You can find the same shirt here for $12 bucks as Macy's for $25. Might as well go here, it makes sense," said Fatima Ashaq of Chowchilla.

At a time when other retailers are folding, Forever 21 is in expansion mode. They've recently taken over several former Mervyn's locations, including one in southern California's Montebello Town Center. It measures 80,000 thousand square feet and has two floors of merchandise. Fresno's current store is 14,000 square feet and when it moves into Fashion Fair's Gottschalk's location, it will be the company's largest yet at 150,000 square feet. "What we're aiming for in Fresno is to give the customers a substantial improvement than what they're seeing now in our Fresno store," said Larry Meyer, Forever 21's executive vice president.

We met up with Meyer in southern California to get a glimpse of how the company plans to fill up such a large space. He said the Fresno store will look like a combination of the former Mervyn's in Montebello and a smaller space in downtown Pasadena. In Pasadena, things seem a little more upscale with flashy displays, high ceilings, and even chandeliers. The Fresno store will also feature new product lines, like 12 by 12. "12 by 12 is all about couture, right off the runway. Something you could see on the runway, and definitely on the street still," said Marco Rodriguez at the Pasadena store.

There's also a line more suitable for the work environment, called Love 21, and the Heritage brand features styles for men. Meyer says the expanded clothing line is just the beginning. "Could be house wares, could be home wares. I don't see toasters, but I do see sheets and bedding and things like that in the next three years," said Meyer.

For now, Forever 21 is mostly known for its women's apparel and its affordable prices. Jewelry starts at two dollars and blouses around twelve. "I can't afford a $400 pair of jeans, but I can buy the exact kind of pair for $20," said shopper Holly Hartley.

Though many associate Forever 21 with younger shoppers, Meyer says the company's research shows only 20 percent of the store's shoppers are under 18 years old, 45 percent are between the ages of 18 to 24, and a third are over the age of 24. We saw that broad array of shoppers at both the Fresno and Pasadena stores, as young professionals, mothers, and daughters browsed side by side. "I wouldn't be able to buy my entire wardrobe here, but there are plenty of wonderful things I can buy for a fun evening," said Maxine Hartley. Hartley found a sweater for herself as she shopped with her 21 year old daughter.

Meyer says that kind of shopping experience is what Forever 21 is all about. "We believe that Forever 21 is a state of mind, it's not a specific age," said Meyer.

Forever 21 will also be expanding in the south valley when it moves into the Hanford mall's former Gottschalk's. Store executives say that store could open as soon as next month. After major renovations to the old Gottschalk's building, the new Forever 21 at Fresno's Fashion Fair mall will open sometime early next year.

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