Thanks to a focused market and a multi-platform selling approach, this clothing designer and retailer enjoys enviable brand power. The key for retailers today is often developing a powerful brand identity that wins shoppers hearts and creates long-term, lucrative relationships. After almost 10 years in the business of providing high-quality, great fitting clothes for young, plus-size shoppers, Torrid has got it down to a science.

“There are a lot of retailers dabbling in plus-size offerings, specifically some big box stores, but we have the experience to understand that selling plus-size clothes isn’t about the size, it’s about the products,” said Chris Daniel, president. “We stay focused on fashion-forward products we know our customers love and have learned we can’t be all things to every plus-size shopper.”He emphasized the importance of communicating with customers, saying Torrid owes its existence to customer feedback. In the late 1990s, Hot Topic shoppers were asking for alternative clothes in bigger sizes, complaining there was no where else for young, plus-size women to shop. So Hot Topic launched Torrid as a sort of big sister store, with similar styles in larger sizes. Daniel said from there, everything clicked; there was no other store like Torrid out there.

As styles changed, however, the company found itself marketing to a subset of a subset: plus-size, young, alternative women. To broaden the store’s appeal, the company diversified its product offering to include more feminine skirts and tops and even suiting separates. But Daniel said the store started to try too hard to be all things to the young, plus-size shopper. His goal in the last few years has been to more narrowly edit the brand to fashion-forward styles.

But it hasn’t been easy. The general assumption of plus-size retailers has always been that a lag exists between a fashion hitting the runway and curvier women looking for it in stores; Daniel said the industry used to think she needed to see the style on the street first.

“More and more, we’re seeing that is not true at all,” he said. “Leggings and skinny jeans are a great example: for the first time, we launched those styles the same time as every other retailer, and they flew off the shelves; suppliers were amazed at how well we were selling them.”

So today, Daniel and his team travel the globe looking for the latest trends, constantly bringing new pieces to the stores to keep things fresh. Most of the clothing at Torrid stores is Torrid brand, but Daniel said the company loves bringing highly recognizable branded products that shoppers will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the size range. He said he loves the “OMG moment” when a customer can’t believe a branded item, or a hot trend, is available at last in her size.

In April, Torrid is launching its first proprietary brand, expanding the iconic 1980s Z. Cavaricci denim brand to a complete line of cutting edge, fashionable pieces that Daniel said will be different from the rest of the Torrid label brand. The line will be available in the company’s existing stores, on Torri.com, and on its own retail site, zcav.com

“This is our first step to give our customers more exclusive products and to push the envelope further than has ever been done in plus-size fashion,” said Daniel, who added that the line was on display in New York for fashion week and received rave reviews.

The shopping experience

Delivering high fashion is only one part of the identity Torrid has successfully created in the last 10 years; an outstanding in-store shopping experience is another. Daniel said the company emphasizes hiring the right people from the start: store associates who are passionate about fashion, regardless of their experience in plus-size retail, and who are interested in selling. He said the store employs men and women outside its size range who don’t wear Torrid clothes but love fashion and selling.

At Torrid, he explained, the magic happens in the dressing rooms, and associates are expected to be on the floor putting outfits together for customers and working toward that OMG moment.

“We help a lot of girls over the hump and show them there are fashionable, great fitting clothes they can feel good about. If you’re not exhilarated by that experience, then you won’t make a good Torrid associate,” he said.

Torrid supports its associates with rewards for top sellers at every store, which included a huge cash bonus for the top sellers in the company for 2009 that Daniel delivered in person a few weeks ago. The company also publishes a quarterly magazine, recognizing top sellers and educating associates about new styles coming down the pipeline.

“We believe recognition raises everyone up: our teams appreciate it, are inspired to work hard, and are invested in making our stores a great place to shop,” said Daniel.

Online identity

A big focus for 2010 at Torrid will be crafting Torrid.com to be the best possible portal into the brand. Over the years, the site has gone from a product- to an information-heavy look; Daniel said the company is slowly striking a balance between e-commerce and fashion news.

“We think of our customer as a 15- to 25-year-old woman, though we know our range is actually much larger than that, and we understand that whenever this demographic hears about something new, it goes to the Internet to learn more,” explained Daniel. “Although we’re working on a streamlined and pleasurable online shopping experience, we also know we need to show our knowledge of fashion and trends and establish that authority to the customer.”

New elements coming to the site soon will include a shop by size option, an easier checkout, and greater integration with the company’s loyalty program, divastyle, and its online shopping profiles. Last year, the company launched an outfit maker, where customers can pull items from the Torrid site and beyond to pull together unique looks and share them with other shoppers on the site. Daniel said the feature is very popular, but he hopes to strengthen the social aspect of it in the future.

“We are bringing the fun and creative in-store experience online, giving our customers a fantastic outlet for their passion for fashion and further establishing us as a fashion leader for curvy fashionistas,” he said.

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