Tidiness of Md. lures German clothier


March 10, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

Everyone knows that cleanliness is next to godliness, but it may also be helpful in attracting business.

At least that was the case with Ulla Popken, a German women's clothing chain, which opened its first U.S. shop at Towson Town Center last week.

On a scouting trip from Boston to Washington a year ago, Ulla Popken officials Astrid F. Popken and Thomas Schneider were less than impressed with the congested area from Boston to New York. "It looked like the area around Dusseldorf," said Ms. Popken, the 25-year-old daughter of founder Ulla Popken, referring to the industrial and commercial center in western Germany.

But when the couple got to Maryland, the relative cleanliness of the state appealed to their German sense of tidiness. "We came down to Maryland, and we had a chance to breathe," Ms. Popken said.

Now the question is how appealing Marylanders will find Ulla Popken's clothing, which is designed for larger women.

An offshoot of a 180-store chain in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Holland, Ulla Popken offers clothing for women who are sizes 12 and larger. The 25-year-old company has $200 million in annual sales, Mr. Schneider said.

While he concedes there is stiff competition in large-size women's wear, Mr. Schneider said Ulla Popken has something else to offer.

"We supply our customers with your fresh fashions with a high quality," said the 26-year-old president of the U.S. operation. "America is totally different from Europe. But wherever you go, women want to look good."

The clothes, which are mostly designed by Ms. Popken's mother, all bear the label Ulla Popken. But Mr. Schneider does not expect the lack of famous brands to be a problem. "The customer will know Ulla Popken very fast," he said.

Mr. Schneider, who is Astrid Popken's fiance, said they targeted the Northeast and mid-Atlantic because the average woman's size on the East Coast is 14, compared with 8 on the West Coast. And by locating in Towson, rather than a city like New York, the store won't get lost in the crowd of retailers, he said.

Besides Mr. Schneider and Ms. Popken, the U.S. operation now has only four workers. But they hope to open 10 to 15 more stores in the next two years and set up a catalog operation. "It's our baby, and it will be in the future," said Ms. Popken.

Greenmount Ave. store

Some stores aren't scared off by inner-city neighborhoods -- they seek them out.

Family Dollar Stores Inc., a Matthews, N.C.-based discount store chain, is opening its 37th Maryland store next Wednesday at the Waverly Tower Shopping Center at 2813 Greenmount Ave. The store will be Family Dollar's ninth in the Baltimore area.

While many retailers have fled downtowns for the fatter wallets of the suburbs, Family Dollar caters to low- and middle-income customers with merchandise that is for the most part priced at less than $20, said Florence W. Stanley, a spokeswoman for the 2,118-store chain.

"Our stores are small, and it's convenient to get in and out of," she said. "It's kind of a neighborhood store."

The store replaces Kid City, a children's clothing store.

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