Bethany Clough

Retail Therapy: What happened to Urban Outfitters?

Urban Outfitters at Fashion Fair closed quietly several weeks ago. Competition from lower-priced and trendier retailers played a role, experts say.
Urban Outfitters at Fashion Fair closed quietly several weeks ago. Competition from lower-priced and trendier retailers played a role, experts say. THE FRESNO BEE

The Urban Outfitters at Fashion Fair closed quietly weeks ago, leaving behind a big blue shell in the outdoor portion of the mall.

So what happened to the once-popular teen and 20-something clothing retailer? Why did it close?

The company isn’t talking. Neither is the mall.

But the Fresno closure appears to be a reflection of troubles facing the retailer nationwide. Urban Outfitters is still profitable, but has been closing stores that aren’t doing as well as it would like, says Neil Saunders, CEO of Conlumino, a New York retail research and analysis firm.

Urban Outfitter stores that once were busy now face competition from low-priced clothing stores Forever 21 and H&M — particularly as H&M goes on a massive expansion kick nationwide, he says.

H&M opened its first store in Fresno in River Park a year ago. Fresno is also home to a multi-story Forever 21, one of the largest in the country, at Fashion Fair.

The less expensive H&M and Forever 21 are luring customers away from Urban Outfitters, Saunders says, particularly in areas like Fresno where people have less money to spend.

Those “are the stores that really suffer more because people will overlook those Urban Outfitter stores and go elsewhere,” he says.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble was spring of last year when the Fashion Fair Urban Outfitters switched to a Urban Outfitters Surplus store. One of three in the country at the time, it was a discount version of the regular store. Rack after rack of clothing was priced as low as $9.99 and scarves in bins cost $3 each.

But the damage didn’t just come from low prices.

Competitors H&M and Forever 21 have “great fashion,” Saunders says.

They’re also “fast fashion,” meaning they change their styles frequently, and they collaborate with designers. The rapid changes keep customers coming back to those stores repeatedly to see what’s new.

Urban Outfitters stores are also struggling because its core audience, a younger, tech-savvy crowd, is totally comfortable buying clothes online. Even if they buy from Urban Outfitters, the shift to online still hurts local stores.

But overall, Urban Outfitters — and its parent company which owns Anthropologie stores and the Free People clothing brand — is still profitable.

Fashion Fair is looking for a replacement but nothing has been finalized yet.

Sprockets

Kids clothing store Sprockets that is next door to Urban Outfitters is also closing, according to an employee. Everything in the store is $8 or less, with many items priced at $4.

It could be a few more months before the store closes, and the sale has already been going for a few months. The Sprockets brand was sold in Mervyns stores until that retailer went bankrupt. A few investors revived the Sprockets brand and opened a handful of stores throughout the southwest.

The parent company could not be reached for comment about why the store is closing.

European Wax Center

A European Wax Center has opened at 1825 Herndon Ave. at Fowler Avenue in Clovis. It’s a second location for local owner Kathy Franklin, who opened the first Valley franchise in River Park in 2013.

The company uses a natural beeswax from Paris for a “healthy and comfortable” wax. The business serves men and women, and offers waxes ranging from eyebrows to toes.

First timers get a free wax — bikini line, underarm or eyebrows for women, and ear, nose or brow for men.

Details: www.facebook.com/EuropeanWaxClovis.

Kohl’s

Kohl’s customers can now buy items online and pick them up in the store. The retailer recently expanded the practice to all its stores after testing it in 100 of them.

The service, increasingly popular at stores like Walmart and JCPenney, lets customers shopping on desktop or laptop computers check to see if something is available in stores and pay for it online. Customers are emailed when the item is available and a designated parking space is set aside for those customers when they pick it up.

The service will be available on tablet and mobile phones later this year.

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