After outperforming its peers throughout the recession, Urban Outfitters Inc. has moved into full growth mode — with a new concept aimed at the lucrative wedding market. In March, the Philadelphia-based retailer revealed it plans to launch a new chain of stores that will sell wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, bridal accessories and wedding gifts.

Urban Outfitters hopes the chain will resonate with both its Anthropologie customers, who tend to be affluent, educated women in the 30- to 45-year-old age range, and with its Free People clientele, which is made up of women aged 25 to 30. The concept will be first tested through an e-commerce Web site scheduled to debut next year. If that venture proves successful, Urban Outfitters will follow it up with brick and mortar stores. Eventually, the company might branch out into wedding services, including flowers and travel arrangements.

“The thought is that they are filling another lifestyle need for their customer and certainly it's going to build a lot of loyalty if [those customers] have a good experience,” says Kelly Tackett, lead apparel sector analyst with Kantar Retail, a Columbus, Ohio-based consulting firm. “Retailers are hoping that shoppers are going to trade up in the ‘meaningful’ categories and what's more meaningful than a wedding?”

In 2009, there were 2.3 million weddings in the U.S., with the average cost per wedding of $30,860, according to the Bridal Association of America. That totals $71.8 billion a year. The average bride spends $1,505 on the dress for the big day, plus $333 on accessories. Many people also spend additional money on wedding favors and gifts — an estimated $1,122 per wedding.

Urban Outfitters' wedding attire will likely feature the same style sensibility as the clothes sold in Anthropologie stores, as they will be designed by the Anthropologie team with some help from guest designers. CEO Glen T. Senk indicated that the wedding gowns will be priced from $1,000 to $5,000 and will be “heirloom” pieces, to be passed down through generations.

But though company executives hope to see “meaningful” income from the new venture, don't expect Urban to roll out its bridal stores on the same scale as its other chains, say the analysts. Going forward, Urban will likely develop more brands for its portfolio, but they will be targeted toward specific consumer segments and feature smaller store fleets than Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People.

“I would expect that it will grow at a pretty measured pace as a way to determine what's working and what's not working,” says Kim Picciola, an analyst with Morningstar. “They are very brand conscious. I am sure they will have [the concept] very well-defined before they roll it out.”

Fast Facts

Name: To be determined

Focus: Wedding dresses, accessories and gifts

Parent company: Urban Outfitters Inc.

Target customer: Brides aged 25 through 45

Planned opening: 2011