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Innovation & Startups

Pittsburgh's rue21 takes teen retail to new heights

Last year was one of monumental growth for the Cranberry-based teen clothing retailer rue21
In October 2013, the company returned to the private sector with London-based Apax Partners' purchase of the retailer for $1.1 billion. It was back to business for Apax, which owned rue21 before the company went public in 2009.
Then things took off. Within a month rue opened its 1000th store, launched a revised store format and expanded selection for guys and hung its shingle for online business. The discount retailer for guys and girls apparel and accessories continues on a steep growth trajectory. Forbes and DDIonline recognized it as one of the fastest growing retailers in the country.
This month the company announced the opening of its 1007 store along with ambitious plans to open 100-125 new stores across the country (in the 47 states) every year for the next five years, says Dan Harris, director of visual merchandising for rue21. 
rue21 employs 500 between its Weirton, Va., fulfillment center and corporate office in Warrendale and another 10,000+ people in stores across the country. The last reported sales were in 2012 of more than $900 million. 
The company’s sweet spot is catering to an underserved market, putting stores in strip centers and small towns, not necessarily the malls explains Harris. “We go into areas where American Eagle wouldn’t go. We can tandem in a Walmart."

“The crazy thing is people don’t realize rue21 is based in Pittsburgh, let alone how big we are,” he says.
rue21 rose from the ashes of Pennsylvania Fashion, a retailer that filed for Chapter 11 back in 2002. Since then, the company has been quietly reinventing itself and growing its presence through the private and public iterations. CEO Bob Fisch came on from Casual Corner in 2001.

More recently, the stores and merchandising has undergone a bright and colorful redesign. Much of rue's success comes from contantly taking the pulse of the teen market, says Harris. 

“We can react to a trend faster than most retailers can,” he says. “A teens perception of what’s cool is changing constantly. We can buy a trend and get it out faster.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dan Harris, rue21
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