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    Sara Lee Takes on Victoria's Secret with New Retail Concept

    ST. LOUIS - Sara Lee Corp., the company best known for cheesecakes and hot dogs, is taking its latest plunge into the retail world with a chain of lingerie stores called Inner Self, Reuters reports.

    ST. LOUIS - Sara Lee Corp., the company best known for cheesecakes and hot dogs, is taking its latest plunge into the retail world with a chain of lingerie stores called Inner Self, Reuters reports. The stores provide an alternative to the often-unattainable, sexy ideal promoted by Victoria's Secret.

    The New Age-inspired concept, which features a spa-like environment with soft music, calming colors and complimentary hand massages, comes as the Chicago company, which is also the largest U.S. underwear maker, finds a key distribution network languishing.

    "It's probably an answer to the fact that one of their most important channels, department stores, is having a lot of difficulty attracting traffic," Deutsche Banc Securities analyst Eric Katzman told Reuters.

    Higher-margin department store business, which accounts for roughly 10 percent of Sara Lee's $6.5-billion in yearly apparel sales, has been under pressure. The stores have faced a tough economy that forced them to trim staff amid heightened competition from discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

    Sara Lee said it aims to have 10 Inner Self stores open through June, and plans to eventually roll out the concept nationally. The company sees the chain filling a niche that will serve women ages 25 to 55.

    The first Inner Self store opened in April 2001, in Raleigh, N.C. Three more stores, each averaging about 3,500 square feet, have opened in Orlando, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; and St. Louis. A Chicago store is slated to open later this year.

    Other retail ventures by Sara Lee have included a high-end Coach leatherware chain and a full-price lingerie boutique called Bali Studio.

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