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Nordstrom is the latest department store to turn to a startup to court millennial shoppers

Six Black Tux showrooms will open in the next six weeks.

The Black Tux
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Nordstrom is turning to a modern competitor to Men’s Wearhouse to lure young customers into its full-price stores.

Over the next six weeks, Nordstrom is unveiling showrooms for the tux rental startup The Black Tux in six stores starting with its Mission Viejo, Calif., location. If the initial rollout goes well, the partnership could expand more widely. None of the stores are located in cities where The Black Tux has, or has immediate plans to open, its own showrooms.

The Black Tux was founded in 2013 in Santa Monica by friends Andrew Blackmon and Patrick Coyne. The venture-backed startup makes its own modern-cut tuxedos and suits that it rents for prices starting at $95. The higher quality and ability to order online is meant to appeal to younger shoppers not interested in relying on an outdated option like Men’s Wearhouse.

Shoppers who visit one of the six Nordstrom locations can get measured and try on a selection of Black Tux tuxedos, and then place rental orders for delivery to their homes. The showrooms will carry limited inventory so you won’t be able to walk out with the goods. But Nordstrom obviously hopes some Black Tux customers will purchase other pieces for an outfit — perhaps shoes or a shirt — while there.

The partnership is the latest example of a department store chain turning to a digital-first startup to lure new, younger shoppers into its stores; the average Black Tux customer is just 29 years old. In November, Neiman Marcus partnered with the women’s dress rental service Rent the Runway to open the first of several stores within its own stores.

“We hope customers want to visit our stores because we always have something new,” Nordstrom spokesperson Kendall Ault said in an email. “Our partnership with The Black Tux is just one of many ways we’re working to bring an exciting element of innovation to our stores and hope our customers enjoy the experience along with some of the best product the market has to offer.”

Same-store sales fell 6.8 percent in the most recent quarter at Nordstrom's full-price stores — the sixth such decline in a row. The $7 billion retailer has seen its stock price fall about 30 percent from this time last year and 50 percent from two years ago. In November, Nordstrom took a $197 million write-down on Trunk Club, the personal-styling startup it purchased for $350 million back in 2014.

The Black Tux co-CEO Andrew Blackmon declined to comment on the terms of the deal but, in similar arrangements, department store chains have been known to charge rent plus a percentage of sales.

Four-year-old Black Tux generates around 90 percent of its revenue from orders placed on its website. But it also operates three brick-and-mortar showrooms and has plans to open two new ones in San Francisco and New York City soon. Over time, it expects a much more even ratio of online to in-store orders — with Nordstrom’s help.

“They’re the ideal partner because what we’re really trying to change is the customer experience of tux rentals and they are hyper-focused on the customer experience,” Blackmon said.

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