Filling the Gap
By Susanna Hamner

(Business 2.0) – ONE OF AMERICA'S leading retailers thinks it's found the path to success—and it starts with separate entrances for men and women. After almost 12 straight months of declining same-store sales, Gap is giving its stores a major makeover based on a year's worth of research. The $16.2 billion retailer unveiled the new look at seven Denver locations in April, and shoppers at the remade outlets are staying longer and spending more. Gap plans to roll out the redesign this fall in Hartford, Conn., and San Diego, and by 2006 as many as 10 cities could be seeing store renovations.

Gap started by replacing its white walls with warm colors, original artwork, and gallery lighting. Most important, it realized that men and women don't want the same experience—hence the separate front doors. "Research showed that men want to come and go easily, while women want an exploration," says Mark Dvorak, Gap's VP for store design. New women's sections are organized by occasion, such as work or going out, with accessories scattered throughout to foster browsing. The men's side is more straightforward: Signs list basics required to build certain outfits, and items are stacked by size for a quick in-and-out shopping experience.

The Denver stores also boast lounges where bored companions can play games and read magazines. And since people loathe waiting in line for fitting rooms, Gap offers pagers so customers can keep shopping until space opens up. Whether the changes can stem Gap's slump remains to be seen, but so far they look like a good fit. — SUSANNA HAMNER