Big Things Come to the Big and Tall Market

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LivingXL.com is a new Web site offering products for plus-sized customers. It sells everything from kitchen items to reinforced toilet seats, but not clothes. The Web site is the creation of Casual Male Retail Group, which owns one of the nation's largest chains of men's plus-sized clothing stores.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Retailers have long marketed large clothes for the large market of plus-size customers. Recently, we alerted you to a Web site that sells everything but clothes for larger people. It sells watchbands to bicycle seats. LivingXL.com was created by Casual Male - that's a group that owns one of the largest chains of plus-size clothing stores.

NPR's Allison Keyes has more on the site.

ALLISON KEYES: Twenty-seven-year-old Colleen James of Chicago says retailers don't show plus-sized shoppers much respect.

Ms. COLLEEN JAMES (Resident, Chicago): There's a little bit of anger about it, but it's mostly just, you know, we have the money. Why doesn't anybody want to take it?

KEYES: James has a plus-sized lifestyle blog called The Pretty Pair, which includes links to plus-sized retailers. She's added a link to LivingXL.com because she said it carries basic stuff that people need and because it relates to its customers in a professional, non-patronizing way. That's just the kind of response the Web site is hoping to get from potential customers.

Ric Della Bernarda is senior vice president for marketing for the Casual Male Retail Group. The Canton, Massachusetts-based firm is a parent company of Casual Male XL. It owns 500 apparel stores nationwide, but now the company is branching out.

Della Bernarda says there's been an overwhelming response since the site went up at the end of May, especially for items like a lawn chair with and 800-pound capacity.

Mr. RIC DELLA BERNARDA (Casual Male Retail Group): We're out of stock in chairs within five days, which is terrific. We'll be back in stock in that soon. Some of the top selling items were the talking scales and the seatbelt extender.

KEYES: Other products on the site include extensions for items like toe clippers so one doesn't have to bend over, plus-sized hospital gowns, and devices to help those with mobility challenges to lift their limbs into or out of bed. Della Bernarda says the idea for the site came from focus groups.

An estimated two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese compared, with 47 percent from a late 1970s survey. Della Bernarda says he thinks the market for plus-sized products is increasing because there are more plus-sized people, and those customers can't buy such specialized items at big box retailers.

Mr. DELLA BERNARDA: There's a growing portion of the population. Again, up till now I don't think this customer segment really has been addressed with everything that they need as much as much as the regular-sized counterparts.

KEYES: Bill Fabrey agrees. He runs Amplestuff, a 19-year-old mom and pop outfit that started out as a catalogue and went online in 2000. Fabrey says even with the new entry, the market is still underserved.

Mr. BILL FABREY (Amplestuff): I think that if you took our sales and Casual Male's sales and added them together, we probably are selling to less than one percent of the total market. Most large people have no idea that we exist.

KEYES: Pretty Pair's James says many companies behave like they don't want plus-sized customers. And she believes they often don't get the same level of help when they go into stores. And she bristles at those who suggest that plus-sized consumers should simply lose weight instead of looking for products geared for them.

Ms. JAMES: It's not whether or not I lose weight or anybody loses weight. The fact of the matter is that there always have been fat people and there probably always will be fat people. I'm not just my fat. I'm also, you know, I'm a human being and I deserve some level of respect just based on that, whether or not I'm fat.

KEYES: Casual Male's Della Bernarda says his employees will give that respect. His firm is offering a training program to those who work the Web site's phone lines so they'll strike the right note when helping callers.

Though the site is just over five weeks old, Della Bernarda says it's already successful. The company declined to release sales figures, but Della Bernarda says the demand is exceeding expectations.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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