When I first came upon Buckle (based out of Kearney, Nebraska, of all the unlikely places), it was riding high and I needed to see what they were doing. This was almost 1 year ago and they are still blowing away the competition. Furthermore, since we are supposed to be in highly uncertain economic times, they are no doubt stealing market share from many competitors.

Last month, they ran almost a 35 comp. And almost 28 comp YTD…Compare that to Gap Inc. at -12 comp YTD, American Eagle at -6 comp, Abercrombie and Fitch flat, Lucky Brand at negative single digits. Only Aerpostale, through some very heavy promotions, remains above water on the year in single digits.

So what is their secret? I really have no idea, but I can tell you what I like. Feel free to comment on what you like or don’t like…

They have broken through with some great private label jeans at middle price points and taken some of the pressure off their branded merchandise. They still have a very well assorted selection of brands with good stock levels, but their private label “BKE” is now given more dominance and prime positioning throughout the store and it looks very strong.

Their merchandising is all about denim and what to wear with denim. That is their sole, unwavering focus. It doesn’t have the styling or edge that a Lucky Brand has (which I happen to like very much) but it caters to a more basic oriented customer that wants a bit of fashion but doesn’t want to make a statement with it. Their visuals are very practical in that they instantly inform the customer about what top to wear with a particular denim style or denim brand by showing a number of different options faced out above a selection of denim. It is simple but very effective.

Their real estate strategy seems to be aimed just “off centre”, to coin a phrase. Meaning, while they have stores in Mall of America and Woodfield, the AAA malls are not their core business. They are situated in smaller cities and towns where they become the most important denim resource for that mall customer.

Ok, so some of the stores could use the updated, slicker new look. Their staff and in-store service are only average (no worse nor better than any other mall based retailer in this space). But maybe some of that is part of their charm. Maybe they are supposed to be a little rough around the edges and not too slick as that is the customer who is drawn to them.

From what I can tell, there are more and more of those customers coming through the doors over the past year and being converted into Buckle shoppers.

TheRetailTherapist πŸ™‚

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