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Forth & Towne stores to land in more markets

Gap Inc., encouraged by strong response from its new store concept called Forth & Towne aimed at the baby boomer customer, plans to add stores in five new markets this fall.
FORTH AND TOWNE
GAP is opening Forth & Towne clothing stores in five more markets after success since the first five stores opened last year.Karen Vibert-kennedy / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gap Inc., encouraged by strong response from its new store concept called Forth & Towne aimed at the baby boomer customer, plans to add stores in five new markets this fall.

The company, which launched Forth & Towne last August with five stores — four in the Chicago area and one in the New York market — said Wednesday that it will expand to Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco/San Jose and Seattle this fall.

"Since introducing Forth & Towne, our customers have told us how excited they are to have a place to call their own," said Gary Muto, president of Forth & Towne, in a statement.

The expansion comes as the San Francisco apparel retailer has been struggling with its own established concepts — Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic — over the past two years, stymied by a series of fashion mistakes and sluggish customer traffic.

With the over-35 age group accounting for 39 percent of women's total apparel expenditures, the market represents a large opportunity for Gap to reach consumers who grew up with the retailer but have outgrown the clothes in both size and fashion taste.

San Francisco-based Gap has been somewhat behind in reaching out to boomers — its competition is well-established and includes mall-based specialty chains like Chico FAS Inc. that have their own particular look. Forth & Towne distinguishes itself from rivals with a variety of different brands and looks that cater to different lifestyles on a selling floor that's bigger than the average clothing store.

Each store features a central fitting salon, which offers fitting rooms with three-way mirrors, extra seating and adjustable lighting.

Richard Hastings, senior retail analyst at Bernard Sands LLC in New York, applauded Gap's move to expand the Forth & Towne concept, saying "You have to experiment. I would try to get this out and working. Let's see what happens."

For the year ended Jan. 28, Gap earned $1.11 billion on sales of $16 billion. That compared with a fiscal 2004 profit of $1.15 billion on sales of $16.3 billion.

Gap's sales at stores open for at least a year, known as same-store sales, have fallen in six consecutive quarters, including a 6 percent decline in the critical fourth-quarter period.