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The retailer who went downtown

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

After about 10 years of trying unsuccessfully to persuade major retailers to come to America’s urban centers, Joe Sitt started building a retail empire of his own in the nation’s inner cities.

Here’s how Sitt succeeded:
  • Through market research, Sitt uncovered a gaping hole in urban retail: women’s apparel. Urban working women couldn’t find a nice suit and blouse, and they especially couldn’t find them in fuller sizes.

  • He invented a brand, Ashley Stewart, to exploit the market’s need. Those nice suits and blouses come in sizes 14 to 26.

  • He puts on up to 350 fashion shows a year to raise money for local charities in the 16 inner cities where his stores are based. Sitt pays nothing for them; he simply gives out discount coupons, which women love and which drives business back into the store. The fashion shows generate lots of free advertising and good will.

  • When Sitt saw old-fashioned brands coming back—like Adidas and Izod—he realized that brands exist in real estate, too. His next stops: Coney Island in New York and the Palmer House hotel in Chicago.
Sitt notes that all the big retailers now have urban stores, including Home Depot and Disney.

But “back then,” he says, “I was considered a crazy man.”

—Adapted form “Transforming urban shopping, one skeptical town at a time,” Joe Sitt with Sasha Issenberg, Inc.

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