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American Eagle's 77kids stores to reopen under Ruum American Kids Wear name this month

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Supplied
Cover of new catalog for Ruum American Kid's Wear, available on Jan. 29.

The new owner of 77kids by American Eagle plans to close the children's clothing stores the night of Jan. 21, fill them with new styles and reopen eight days later under a new name: Ruum American Kid's Wear.

Liquidation sales that began weeks ago now feature 70-percent-off, “everything must go” prices at the 77kids chain, which includes stores in The Mall at Robinson and Ross Park Mall as well as the 77kids.com website.

Ruum's look won't be a big departure from 77kids' casual styles. The stores are scheduled to reopen Jan. 29.

“But we think a more sophisticated and cleaner type of aesthetic is possible,” Richard Flaks, chief operating officer at New York City-based Ezrani 2 Corp., said Friday.

Ezra Dabah, a former CEO of The Children's Place store chain, heads Ezrani 2, which bought the money-losing 77kids business in August from South Side-based American Eagle Outfitters Inc. The brand debuted online in 2008, adding stores later.

Dabah paid 65 percent of the cost of acquired inventory, assumed liabilities and got a license to use the 77kids name through Jan. 15 under the deal, securities filings said. A total price wasn't disclosed.

Flaks said the Ruum name was chosen mainly because it sounds cool, and allows for plenty of plays on words. “The girls room, the kids' room, the family room. There is room to grow,” he said.

In retooling the 77kids business, “We've got to be careful not to swing the pendulum too far,” he said, citing consumers' confusion over J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson's sweeping changes to that brand in the past year.

“You're going to see this as an evolution, not a revolution.” Some styles might remind shoppers of J Crew's looks for adults, he said.

Shoppers at The Mall at Robinson “have voiced concerns that they will change the look and the brand,” said Shema Krinsky, marketing director, but the new owners have said the quality and look will be similar. Styles will be “trendy, hip and cool,” and the stores will have interactive elements as 77kids did.

Ruum will offer more basics than 77kids. For example, polo shirts might come in five colors at many retailers, but Ruum will have them in 12 to 18 colors, Flaks said.

Still, Ruum could have a tough time retaining 77kids customers and attracting new ones in a difficult economy, said Audrey Guskey, a Duquesne University marketing professor and retail expert.

“Customers develop loyalties,” she said, and any new player has to pull out all the stops with better quality and styles, or lower prices to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack.

Styles will be organized in groups each season. For girls this spring, the groups include Ultra Girl, with pretty floral items, plus Americana and Prepster, Flaks said, though he doesn't know whether those names will be used in marketing. Boys' style groups include Moto Cool and Retro Funky.

Ruum will use a few of the same manufacturers as 77kids, but most will be different.

“We're looking, over time, to maintain the quality that 77kids had, but the ticketed prices will come down,” he said. Still, Ezrani 2 had been planning its concept for a couple of years, even before American Eagle Outfitters opted to end its children's business, he said.

The renamed chain will keep 21 stores, shedding locations in North Carolina and Manhattan, the latter part of an American Eagle store.

The company has 350 employees — about 300 in the store chain, plus shared staff that also work on the Nina footwear brand that Dabah purchased last year, Flaks said.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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