BHLDN bridal brand debuts inside Philly's Anthropologie store

Stylist Beth Rosella helps Ignacia Behncke, 32, try on a wedding dress in BHLDN (pronounced beholden) inside the Anthropologie store in Center City in Philadelphia on Friday, November 18, 2016. BHLDN is the bridal brand for Philly-based Urban Outfitters, Inc., and opened a shop-in-a-shop today. .(Michelle Gustafson/For the Inquirer)

Urban Outfitters Inc.'s wedding brand, BHLDN, is settling nicely inside the Anthropologie store in Center City Philadelphia.

The store-within-a-store concept is a union of the retail sort that opened to brides on Friday for the first time here.

It's aimed at expanding Anthropologie's reach and represents another step in the Philly-based company's emphasis on enhancing experiential shopping to keep customers longer and spending more in its stores as online shopping becomes a bigger threat.

The new, bridal-exclusive shop BHLDN (pronounced beholden) is on the lower level of Anthropologie at 1801 Walnut St. and features all things for that dream wedding - including gowns, jewelry, and accessories.

Appointments for fittings and other bridal services can also be booked online.

"The Philadelphia bride has asked us for a BHLDN shop and we love that we can delight her with our latest store within the Rittenhouse Square Anthropologie," said Danielle Cloutier, senior marketing manager for BHLDN. "While we have two stand-alone BHLDN stores in Chicago and Houston, our new shops within Anthropologies add to the experience of the bride-to-be having a one-stop-shop for her wedding and a new home and daily lifestyle."

Cloutier describes the offerings as "a thoughtfully curated assortment."

During an August conference call on second-quarter earnings, Trish Donnelly, Global CEO for Urban Outfitters Group, attributed the company's strong topline growth partly to making the shopping experience distinctive.

"The record volume in the quarter [occurred] across categories, geographies, and channels," she said of the Urban Outfitters brand. "One of our biggest shifts in strategy, across all merchandise categories, has been our focus on exclusive product and offering our customer product he or she can't get anywhere but Urban Outfitters."

Retail analyst Simeon Siegel of Nomura Securities International Inc. in New York, said the store-within-a-store concept ties in with the recent moves of Urban Outfitters Inc. to dazzle the shopper and get his or her senses on overload, including sight, smell, and touch, known as experiential retailing.

The company, which has its headquarters at the Navy Yard, bought a pizza chain earlier this year, making Pizzeria Vetri restaurants part of its family.

In June it rolled out much bigger Anthropologie stores at a time when competitors are downsizing brick-and-mortar stores to coincide with decreased foot traffic because of digital shopping.

"The company is essentially creating a mini-department store within their own boxes," Siegel said. "With mall traffic on a perpetual decline, convincing the customer that stores offer an experience that can't be matched online is critical. This seems yet a further example of that."

In addition to Anthropologie and BHLDN, the company also owns the Free People, Terrain, and namesake Urban Outfitters brands. Each brand has a unique customer segment mostly ranging from ages 18 to 45, and offers an eclectic mix of merchandise spanning food, wholesale, retail, and direct to consumer.

Urban Outfitters Inc. operates over 550 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

BHLDN, which launched its website on Valentine's Day 2011, opened its first storefront later that year. It also offers one-on-one styling services in stores and online to help brides plan the Big Day.

BHLDN opened its first, free-standing store in Houston in 2011. Since then, the brand expanded with another stand-alone store in Chicago. There are now 11 shops within Anthropologie locations throughout the country - including New York, Beverly Hills, and the Center City store. There is also a stand-alone BHLDN bridal shop on 38th Street in New York.

Morningstar retail analyst Bridget Weishaar said in an August note that Urban's "investments in digital capabilities and store experience will remain significant."

"In our opinion, each of its brands has a distinct, well-defined concept that transcends product type and functionality," she wrote. "The stores are carefully curated to offer a niche customer a one-stop shopping experience from apparel to home goods.

"Its success in developing an emotional connection with consumers can be seen at Anthropologie, where 57 percent of active customers enrolled in a loyalty program and the top 10 percent purchase 12 times per year. The average length of a store visit is over 75 minutes."

sparmley@phillynews.com

215-854-4184@SuzParmley