For years, Raleighs Store Corp. has been known primarily as the haberdasher that conservatively clothed lawyers, politicians and other members of Washington's male establishment.
Now, under new ownership, the 74-year-old retailer wants to be known as the clothier for stylish Washington working women as well.
"Even though we have been in the women's business since the 1920s, a lot of residents aren't aware of the size and scope of our female business," complained Neal J. Fox, who became president of Raleighs a year ago when he and a group of investors bought the 12-store chain from its founders, the Lansburgh family.
"I'm out to change that image," he said, pointing to the spring catalogue, which displays women's clothing more prominently than ever before. "I just want to get on [women's] shopping list. If that happens, then we'll get our share of the business," he said.
What's more, Fox added, he wants Raleighs to become the store of preference for the younger professional. "I want Raleighs to become the dominant store in the Washington area that properly serves the baby boomers -- and yuppies."
The task won't be easy, area retailing executives predicted. "The store has been stodgy and complacent for so long" that it will take a lot of work for Raleighs to change its image, commented one local retailing executive who declined to be named.
Fox acknowledged that difficulty, saying his efforts "are almost like doing a Pygmalion job on a store."
Nonetheless, Fox -- a soft-spoken man who spoke at length about his plans even before a single question was asked -- indicated he is determined to make his wishes happen.
Fox, a former executive with Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and I. Magnin, took what he said he believes will be a major step toward achieving his goal earlier this month when he named a Neiman-Marcus vice president to be the company's vice president and general merchandise manager in charge of the women's wear division.
That appointment followed an earlier announcement that a buyer for Bloomingdale's also would join Raleighs staff as a dress buyer. Meanwhile, another Neiman-Marcus vice president has been hired to be in charge of buying men's furnishings.
"We want to upgrade our merchandise and make it more fashionable, to make our customers feel we're in step with the '80s. In the past, we've been classicists; now we intend to be more fashion-forward -- to always be in style without being a fashion innovator."
He said he hopes the result will change the balance of the company's annual $70 million sales. Today, women's clothing accounts for about one-third of the total; within the next two years, Fox hopes that women's clothes will account for 45 percent of the company's total sales.
But Fox said he does not intend to let his share of the male-apparel market slip, either.
"We have a relatively dominant position in men's clothing which we hope to expand even more," by offering more fashion-oriented, higher-priced suits and more casual sportswear as well. "We've been more a business-uniform headquarters than a casual-weekend headquarters. We're gradually expanding to casual and leisure-time wear to better service the lifestyle of our customer. We also want to reach the customer who wants a more fashion-forward approach."
Although Fox said that many of the changes he has made in the past year have not yet surfaced on the store level, his desire to bring more fashionable male clothing to the store already is apparent. While Raleighs continues to sell its Hickey-Freeman and Hart Schaffner & Marx suits, it has added the more expensive lines of Oxxford and Burberry suits as well as Italian lines, including Giorgio Armani.
Fox said his hands are so tied with upgrading the 12-store chain that he has no intention of opening new ones for at least two years. If and when he does, though, he said he wants to establish them within the Washington metropolitan area.
"I want to keep Raleighs regional for now. I've seen too many stores that have a great personality on a regional basis go national and lose their spirit. The advantage we have is that we are Washington-based and should be in a position to better service our customers than someone with headquarters in New York who may not know what our customers really want."