The Limited, Columbus, Ohio

The dominant specialty retailer from two decades ago has a new owner, a new focus and a new store format.
Posted October 25, 2010
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Back in the days of big hair, new wave music and day-glo everything, The Limited reigned supreme. Forenza sweaters and Outback Red labels filled the closets of teenage girls and young women across the U.S.

Big hair may be gone today. But The Limited is still around and looking to fill up those closets again by capitalizing on that once-strong brand recognition.

“We did focus groups and everyone has a memory of The Limited,” says Elizabeth Seitz, the retailer’s director of store design and construction. “But many of them then say, ‘I haven’t been in there recently.' ”

Part of the reason was a de-emphasis of the brand by previous owner Limited Brands Inc. (Columbus, Ohio), which allowed the chain to drop from close to 700 stores, in all the nation’s major malls, to around 250. But in 2007, Limited Brands sold The Limited, the original 1963 brainchild of Leslie Wexner, to private equity firm Sun Capital Partners Inc. (Boca Raton, Fla.). And with an infusion of capital, it’s now embarking on a store expansion and redesign program to reintroduce itself to the public. “We want to say, ‘We’re still here,’ ” Seitz says.

“We want to be a sophisticated option for the young career woman just out of college,” says Deb Camarota, Limited’s senior vp, brand creative, “who needs a wardrobe for that first big job interview, for work and for casual Friday, with evening and weekend options and without spending a lot of money.”

The challenge for The Limited was to create a store that shows the shopper, at a glance, that all those options are available to her and that she can mix and match and put outfits together confidently.

“Our old store was big and clunky, even a little masculine,” says Camarota. “We had cold tile floors, big tables, high ceilings, dark colors. We wanted to create instead a space that’s women-friendly – cool, chic and urban, but also with a touch of residential. We have a softer color palette, more modern materials, lots of fitting rooms with big mirrors and soft, modern furniture.”

The test store was a new 6000-square-foot space in Polaris Mall, in The Limited’s Columbus backyard. The layout is made up of three distinct rooms that, front to back, include a fashion shop, “the exciting, trendy things they see in InStyle magazine,” says Seitz; suiting and essentials, for professional and work needs; and the casual, everyday shop. There’s a center drive aisle featuring key items that transition from one category to another.

“It’s all about wardrobing,” says Seitz. “The idea is to get the customer to put the entire store together, to understand that something in the professional shop can be matched with something from the fashion shop. We try to give her confidence and direction.”

The Limited is building several new stores, in addition to renovating several old stores. The new format, like the one in Milwaukee’s Mayfair Mall, features a raised platform that houses mannequins by day, special events by night – such as how-to-dress forums by fashion designer Jodi Arnold, who has a new exclusive line for The Limited, and women’s career expert Nicole Williams.

The plan, says Seitz, is to do some renovation of all 230 Limited stores over the next couple of years and to open around 20 new stores a year. Its young women of the 1980s and ’90s have grown up and moved on. Now, so has The Limited.

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