Journeys Milestone: Retail Expeditions

Since debuting its first shop, Journeys, like so many other 1980s teen idols, has mastered the art of reinvention.

Even in its earliest days, the chain incorporated design features into its stores that would attract adolescent shoppers.

“When we opened the very first store in 1986, we bought a 42-inch, big-box television to hang behind the counter,” recalled Jim Estepa, president and CEO of the retail group at Journeys parent Genesco Inc. “Then, we got cable for MTV because we realized teenagers were gravitating toward music videos, and we knew it was going to be important to them going forward.”

Genesco Chairman, President and CEO Bob Dennis noted that the chain has always had a knack for recognizing what’s important to its customers. “Early on, the Journeys team made a conscious commitment to understand their customer better than anyone else in the marketplace,” he said. “Equipped with that understanding, some of the best merchants and store operations specialists in the business have consistently produced a product selection and a shopping environment that are uniquely compelling to the customer.”

Twenty-five years and more than 1,000 store openings after its start, Journeys is looking to reach the next generation of youth in different ways by integrating mobile devices into the store experience. The retailer already has the POS technology in place to accept mobile payments via smartphones, and it is preparing to use the platform in the near future. QR bar codes are also now regularly placed on visual merchandising.

Although technology will play a bigger part in Journeys’ retail plans going forward, the physical spaces are also getting a minor touchup. Close to 100 of its shops will go through a refresh by the year’s end, which includes everything from installing new tiles and lighting, to other cosmetic repairs.

In the past, this process of refining locations took more than a month, during which stores would lose revenue. It’s now been streamlined to five days.

The last — and only — time the company underwent a major redesign was in 1996, when it added novelties such as working phone booths with video screens and branded graphics that reflected the world of action sports.

Since that 1996 revamp, the retailer has been making slight modifications annually. Those early large-console television sets were upgraded to flat-screen panel TVs over the years, and with the advent of mobile devices, the pay phones eventually became obsolete. What has never changed, however, is Journeys’ primary focus: shoes.

“Products are what give the stores their character,” Estepa said.

To that end, Mario Gallione, SVP and GMM of the Journeys Group, said the layout of stores have always evolved according to what products are hot at the time. For example, when footwear trended away from grunge looks to flip-flops in the late 1990s, the stores had to adapt to a new merchandising strategy.

The chain began installing vertical grids on the wall space previously reserved for signage. The fence-like structures turned the extra wall space into an area to showcase merchandise such as flip-flops, T-shirts, backpacks and hats.

The look of the stores also is defined, in part, by the sales associates, who help decide how stores are laid out and what product is offered. “We always believe that our employee is our customer,” Estepa said. “As long as we stay very close to what’s happening to our young employees, then we don’t have to [wonder about] what’s new with fashion, technology or action sports.”

Company executives also noted that most employees in the corporate office started at the store level, which all contributes to the in-store shopping experience.

“The people play right into store design,” said Rob Taylor, SVP of operations. “The tenure and the amount of experience of staff from the store level helps us stay disciplined on our concept. We’ve all worked within Genesco and we’ve made a lot of mistakes with store design in the past. But because we’re blessed to have the tenure of our employees, we won’t be repeating the mistakes other retailers have.”

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