How Dress Barn’s CMO Engineered the Brand’s Surprisingly Chic Revamp

Making the dress fun again

Since joining Dress Barn two years ago, chief marketing officer Lori Wagner and her team have been quietly working on revamping the brand. How do you take a strip-mall, value-oriented chain and believably refresh its image as a chic-yet-affordable option for women in the 35- to 45-year-old set?

You focus on the dress, according to Wagner. And that's exactly what the 53-year-old brand has done. This week, it's rolling out several design collaborations for its dress section, or Dressbar, as the brand calls it. The new lines include LUXE by Carmen Marc Valvo; MiXT by Heidi Weisel; Lovely by Adrianna Papell; and more.

"We want to be true to our core, and we believe that there are a lot of women out there in our target age group that are underserved," said Wagner. "We wanted to give this woman something that she just can't get anywhere else: real fashion at an incredible value, which is what we're known for."

A retailer that's long emphasized its value, Dress Barn now wants to be known for design. Over the next 90 days, the Dressbars at roughly three dozen of the brand's nearly 800 locations will get a makeover. By the fall, most of the brand's locations will have refurbished the store look to match the brand's repositioning.

The retailer did not work with an agency on this overhaul, instead working with freelancers and its new in-house design team.

"When we were working on the repositioning and talking to people, we found that everyone has a dress story," said Wagner. "It has such an emotional anchor that it's magical. I've never seen anything like it. At any age, man or woman, has a dress story."

Dress Barn's lower price point and wider range of size options—2 to 24 in most clothing—help the brand find points of differentiation easily, too.

As Wagner noted, the store's competition in the value channel—Kohl's or JCPenney's, for example—have consumers shopping for cocktail dresses next to pots and pans. "There's no specialty store speaking to this consumer with any relevant fashion," she said.