Avenue Stores on Tuesday said it has tapped Mark Walsh, a board member who began advising the company in 2017, to replace Liz Williams as chief executive officer of its Avenue plus-size brand.
Walsh's retail experience includes stints as CEO of Bob's Stores and Eastern Mountain Sports, group president of Liz Claiborne, and executive vice president of E-commerce and Strategic Planning at J. Crew Group, according to a company press release. He has also held executive positions in marketing and finance for Citibank, N.A. and PepsiCo.
First launched in 1983 as Sizes Unlimited, Avenue runs about 300 stores offering women's clothing in sizes 14-32. Williams led a turnaround over the past six years and is leaving to take time off and evaluate other opportunities, the company said.
The plus-size customer seems poised to provide a major opportunity for retailers. The plus-size market in 2015 accounted for 17% of U.S. women's apparel sales, according to the NPD Group, with U.S. sales of special sizes (plus-size/full-figure, petite plus, and junior plus sizes), rising 3% in the 12 months ending February 2016 to $20.4 billion.
The inclusive market, meanwhile, covers an even larger segment of the population: Two-thirds of U.S. females consider themselves to be a special size, meaning, plus, petite, junior or tall, according to NPD Group's Consumer Tracking Service. By contrast, one-third of females identify as plus-size, the same study notes. NPD has also found that U.S. teens purchasing in the junior size category dropped from 81% in 2012 to 73% in 2015, while teens purchasing plus-size clothing is now 34%, compared to 19% in 2012.
So why aren't banners like Avenue or Ascena's Lane Bryant and Catherines racking up greater numbers? The problem is their hyper-specialization, according to Jane Hali, CEO of investment research firm Jane Hali & Associates.
Women of all sizes simply want to be able to shop for apparel anywhere, and find items in a range. That means that mainstream retailers like Nordstrom and Target, which Hali says are making strides in such efforts, have an advantage. Nordstrom last year expanded its denim sizing to range from 00-24W and just this week announced it is bringing extended sizing to 30 stores, with 100 brands adding more zeros, 2's, 14's, 16's and 18's across multiple categories, including denim, dresses, swimwear, activewear and lingerie. And Target is now featuring inclusive sizes and displaying plus size mannequins next to regular size ones for its new apparel labels.
"The plus-size divisions are in trouble because research has shown that this customer does not want to feel isolated and shop in a store devoted to plus size," Hali told Retail Dive earlier this week.