Archive for the 'Department store retailing' Category

Sears opens appliance/mattress stores

RetailWire panelists discussed Sears’ plans to open stores specializing in nothing but major appliances and mattresses. While this may have been a solid strategy 20 years ago, count me as a skeptic given Sears’ issues today:

It’s hard to picture anything solving the Sears problem at this point. The company just announced the closure of a mall anchor here in Milwaukee (after closing another anchor over a year ago), leaving it with just one full-line store here. I’m sure the story is being duplicated around the country, at the same time that Sears has been closing (not opening) appliance-only franchise stores.

Sears’ legitimate franchise in appliances is evaporating as it continues to shrink its footprint and sell off its key brand (like Kenmore). The appliance space is crowded with competitors, now including major investments by Amazon and JCPenney. And who needs another place to buy mattresses, especially given the growth of online sales?

JCP today, fitness center tomorrow?

The Simon development group is taking a three-level JCP store — soon to close at Southdale Center outside Minneapolis — and redeveloping the space as a fitness center. I’m among the RetailWire panelists discussing this smart “reinvention” strategy that can be applied to malls around the country:

Creating a fitness center out of an existing mall anchor is a creative way to reinvent excess real estate — instead of waiting for another retail tenant or tenants to energe (unlikely) in today’s overspaced environment. I’ve been in the JCP store in question and it was grossly overspaced for the volume it probably generated during the last few years.

Students of retail history (and Minnesota natives like me) know that Southdale was the first fully enclosed regional mall in the U.S. It served its purpose as a retail mecca — and community center — for many years, but the mix of anchors and nearby competition from Mall of America has made it less relevant in its current form. So the Simon team deserves credit for finding new reasons for people to come to Southdale and other malls like it.

Does Gordmans have a future as an off-pricer?

Stage Stores bought the Gordmans Midwest-based chain out of bankruptcy earlier this year, and announced plans to convert it from a promotional department store to an off-pricer. I commented on a RetailWire panel discussion about the game plan along with Stage Stores’ decision to maintain multiple nameplates:

From my recollection shoppoing a few Gordmans stores in the past, they were a Kohl’s wannabe without the geographic footprint to be sustainable. Now they are aiming to be a TJ Maxx wannabe but will still be saddled with the same problems. It’s tough to enter an increasingly crowded sector without the physical footprint or the buying power to compete against TJX, Ross Store and now Backstage.

Stage Stores is trying to maintain multiple concepts and brands (Peebles, Goodys, Bealls and now Gordman). Why not operate one concept under one brand-name umbrella? It’s the “Bon Ton syndrome” where none of the individual brand names is strong enough to overcome the lack of scale.

Should Amazon buy Macy’s?

Here are some of my own thoughts from a provocative discussion on RetailWire:

Amazon shouldn’t buy Macy’s if its only motivation is to use the stores as pickup and return centers. And I’m not sure that Amazon “needs” Macy’s to give its own apparel business more credibility — some reports suggest that Amazon will already become the #1 seller of apparel in the U.S. this year.

It should only pursue Macy’s if it is prepared to reinvent the department store model from top to bottom — something that Macy’s itself seems unwilling or unable to do. Amazon is already dipping its toe into other kinds of brick-and-mortar retail, but this would be a big jump.

Thoughts on Macy’s self-service shoe and cosmetics departments

RetailWire panelists just took on the subject of a new test at Macy’s, in which its shoe and cosmetics departments are being converted to “assisted self-service” instead of the traditional associate-driven model. In the case of shoes, Macy’s is getting more of its inventory out of the stockroom and bulked out on the floor, with apparent early success. I’m raising a caution flag, however:

It’s hard to tell whether the reconfigured shoe department is meant to be a sales driver or an expense saver. JCP recently reconfigured a store that I visited to mass out its shoe inventory — DSW-style — instead of depending on salepeople to find the right size in the back. (And these associates are often paid a commission, just like cosmetics salespeople.) But it gets to the heart of what Macy’s wants to be. As Art put it, are they trying to be JCP or Kohl’s? Are they finding the hidden costs of “omnichannel” (BOPIS and so forth) to be unsustainable for a traditional department store?

And one more issue: By abandoning the Nordstrom model (where the salesperson is trained to bring out three pairs of shoes when the customer asks to look at one), Macy’s may in the long run walk away from the sales and margin potential of “upselling” that shoe and cosmetics departments should be known for. A declaration of victory may be premature.

JCP pursues B2B opportunities

Here’s a new RetailWire comment on Penney’s announcement that it is going after B2B opportunities with hotel operators, property developers, etc. to place its home goods in these kinds of facilities. It’s another example of CEO Marvin Ellison taking a page from his Home Depot playbook:

I’d be less concerned about the borrowings from Home Depot if I didn’t see improvements on the softlines side happening at the same time. There’s evidence (at least to these eyes) that the new merchant team at JCP is making some headway especially in women’s apparel, where the assortments and brand identity look crisper than they have for awhile.

That being said, the B2B initiative is a puzzle to me. Penney may see it as a volume opportunity — and a branding opportunity to place its private-label home goods inside hotel rooms, etc. But will hotel operators and franchisees be interested in dealing with a middleman, if they already source their linens and towels through the buying power of brands like Hilton, Marriott, etc.?

Can JCP leverage its Sephora success?

It’s probably note the first time (on RetailWire or elsewhere) that I’ve talked about Sephora at JCP. It’s clearly a win and continues to be rolled out or expanded in more and more locations. So how does Penney use it to attract new shoppers and convert them to JCP loyalists? Here are some recent thoughts:

When Mike Ullman (formerly of LVMH) partnered with Sephora (owned by LVMH), he realized that JCP needed a critical mass of cosmetics even though the legacy department store brands like Clinique, Estee Lauder and Lancome wouldn’t sell Penney. (Lancome is now part of the Sephora assortment.) At the same time, Sephora was growing as a mall-based alternative to the anchor stores’ beauty departments with a unique approach to open-sell layout and fresh assortments. It’s turned out to be a win for both companies, especially as those traditional department store anchors lose share and traffic.

Certainly omnichannel is another opportunity for JCPenney, as Amazon continues its inroads into the beauty business. But perhaps the biggest unmet opportunity for JCP is to convince the (younger) Sephora customer in the store to buy more apparel, shoes and accessories on her visits to the beauty department.

And to add some recent comments posted after a store visit, there is visible sign of improvement in JCP’s assortments:

I’ve been critical for several years of JCP’s women’s assortments — too many brands, too many styles, too much overlap between brands. But credit where due: I shopped a Penney store in the past couple of weeks on behalf of a consulting client, and I saw a marked improvement in key item focus and brand clarity. Shoes were merchandised in a more effective way, and fashion jewelry looked improved too (although not yet handbags).

Penney promoted its men’s GMM last year to the head merchant position, and if what I saw is any indication, he’s got things heading in the right direction. It’s a small sample size but perhaps a leading indicator. JCP isn’t going to solve its sales problems until it figures out how to drive its apparel business, no matter how well it’s doing with Sephora or even major appliances.