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Century 21’s Got New Branding and Big Plans for Expansion

Off-price department store chain Century 21 has its eye on long-term growth, whether that’s expanding its store base or capturing more market share among the millennial cohort.

Century 21’s first-ever pop-up at Herald Square, which also incorporates the retailer’s updated, signature-red branding concept, could determine the next move in its long-term growth strategy, including additional pop-ups and an expansion into other states across the U.S. Currently, the company’s stores are clustered along the northeastern U.S. coastline.

The holiday site, located at 50 W. 34th Street, is significantly larger than an average retail pop-up and, up until the end of September, had been the home of Forever 21. The lower floor, which also houses a small selfie spot, spans roughly 5,000 square feet, while the second floor encompasses 35,000 square feet. The store is currently slated to remain open through Jan. 11, 2020.

Century 21's Got New Branding and Big Plans for Expansion
The front section of the pop-up where shoppers can hang out and take selfies. Courtesy Photo

Chief marketing officer Michael Kustermann says the pop-up is essentially a “test-and-learn” concept store that will allow the company to get a read on what’s resonating with its targeted customer base. The company will see how it does in the pop-up space before deciding on its future at that location–opening the door to the possibility that the department store chain could elect to “take over the space as another flagship location,” according to Kustermann.

It’s a site that could work for the off-pricer. Years ago, discount chain Conway Stores had been a fixture on 34th Street, but its presence diminished as it pulled back on adjacent stores due to financial constraints. The chain was sold in January 2014 to National Stores. Industry sources said at the time of the sale that the psychographic profile of consumers shopping in the area was that they were looking for more upscale merchandise instead of leftover goods from excess inventory.

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In opening the pop-up at Herald Square, Century 21 could have both location and type of merchandise assortment in its favor.

The “serendipitous” opportunity came in early October Kustermann said, and, in less than one month, the Century 21 team was able to work fast to open its doors on Nov. 1. Despite the size of the store, it’s still smaller than a typical Century 21 door, which is why it only offers men’s and women’s apparel, shoes and accessories, as opposed to the full assortment for kids, housewares and home goods, electronics and beauty found in its 14 full-size doors.

Century 21 has been vetting locations to see what could resonate with customers as it looks to expand its retail base. Herald Square was viewed as the right location, both because of the local customer base and because it was “another opportunity to serve the tourist population who visit and love to shop at our store,” Kustermann said.

The retailer’s fashion offerings, which “emphasize European designers,” according to Kustermann, make it a popular destination for tourists on the hunt for discounted merchandise. The retailer has a store in Jersey Gardens Mall, often frequented by tourists arriving at Newark Airport, according to the company website. The merchandise at all Century 21 stores are offered at up to 65 percent off list price.

The privately-held Century 21 was founded in 1961 by the Gindi family. The original store at 472 86th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is still in operation, although it has since expanded from 6,000 square feet to 220,000 square feet. Most stores are in New York and New Jersey, although the company did expand its presence to include Center City, Philadelphia in 2014 and to Sawgrass Mills, Fla. in 2016. The company also operates its website at c21stores.com. And in August, it partnered with online grocer Boxed to curate an apparel and beauty assortment. The retailer has plans to open a new Long Island location at Roosevelt Field in Spring 2021, which is expected to be a relocation of its current store on Old Country Road in Westbury.

Specifically to Manhattan, Century 21 operates its flagship store at 22 Cortlandt Street that was rebuilt after heavy damage from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and an Upper West Side store at Lincoln Square.

At a preview event for the Herald Square site the night before the store opened, co-owner Isaac Gindi said of the decision to open the first pop-up in Manhattan, “Century 21 is synonymous with this city. We believe in the city. We had 9/11. People thought we were going to close the store. We wouldn’t leave…We believe in fashion.”

Adding to that, Kustermann said, “As you walk through the store, you get a sense of where we are going as a brand. We’re putting our best foot forward for a city we love. This is Act One, with more to come.”