Posts Tagged 'Bon Ton Stores'

Another post-mortem on Bon Ton Stores

Because Bon Ton Stores (soon to close at this writing) is based here in Milwaukee, I’ve paid close attention to the reasons behind its demise. Here are some thoughts from a recent RetailWire panel discussion:

One key lesson: The merger of two strong players will almost always work better than the combination of weaker stores. The Macy’s-May deal included the market share leader in almost every major city in the country, even though Macy’s was criticized at the time for changing the nameplates of chains like Marshall Field’s and Famous-Barr. Meanwhile, Bon-Ton’s acquisition of stores like Carson’s and Younkers (and then choosing to maintain “local” identities) was saddled by debt and by the lack of national scale or brand equity.

Milwaukee (where I live) is one of Bon-Ton’s two “headquarters” cities, and the home of its Boston Store nameplate. As an observer, I find the CEO revolving door was an issue and the company’s slow pace of e-commerce development (compared to Macy’s and Kohl’s) didn’t help either. And as a shopper, Boston Store’s content seemed overly focused on “career” Boomers who are retiring from the workforce, without a strategy to replace them with goods for younger customers.

Can mall anchors use space more creatively?

The following comment (from RetailWire) was triggered by a discussion about Macy’s plans to do more short-duration space allocation. I think it’s a good idea for other stores if they can adapt to the fluid mindset necessary to pull it off:

Macy’s has long experimented with the concept of pop-up space in its Herald Square flagship, because it has the space to be flexible. There is a constant stream of short-duration shops, especially on the main floor — but this is a luxury that most department stores (including Macy’s) can’t or choose not to afford.

Department stores’ use of their square footage has long been dominated by the same businesses (starting with cosmetics and handbags on the main floor) or the same “prestige” apparel brands, supplemented by exclusive brands. It’s hard to shake loose from this mentality when it’s all about space allocation and vendor agreements instead of focusing on a shopper looking for newness. (And by “newness,” I don’t mean next month’s new shipment of product from the same old vendors.)

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, with the scion of The Bon-Ton Stores (soon to close) regretting in hindsight his company’s failure to be more innovative. This is the problem in a nutshell: The “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome.

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.

Has the “lifestyle center” made the regional mall obsolete?

RetailWire panelists recently discussed an article arguing that “lifestyle centers” have displaced the traditional fully-enclosed regional mall. “Not so fast,” I argue in the following post:

There is a “lifestyle center” in my neighborhood in suburban Milwaukee called “Bayshore Town Center.” It replaced an outdated combination of strip and indoor mall (with elements from the 50’s and 70’s), and has thrived ever since reopening in 2006. Two of its three original anchors (Bon Ton and Kohl’s) are still in place, while Sears closed last year and is awaiting redevelopment. Apparently the outdoor storefronts (in Bayshore’s faux “downtown”) are more successful than the locations inside the mall, even during winter weather.

Clearly the “socialization” aspect of lifestyle centers is important — complete with dining options, movie theatres, etc. — and it’s also an advantage not to be locked into giant mall anchor department stores as that segment continues to shrink. But the giant regional mall isn’t dead yet, as long as developers keep the tenant mix and entertainment options fresh.

Sears: Does anybody care?

Sears entrance

I took this picture outside a Sears store anchoring the Southridge Mall near Milwaukee. It’s a Simon mall including a Macy’s, JCP, Kohl’s and Bon Ton store among its tenants, and the biggest mall by square footage in Wisconsin. The other anchors remodeled all or parts of their stores when Macy’s opened here a couple of years ago.

This is the sight that greets shoppers walking into Sears from the parking lot. (And there is a duplicate poster on the opposite side of the door, looking just the same.) I know that Outdoor Life is an active/casual brand at Sears, and the poster (upon close inspection) is meant to look like a map — I guess. But it doesn’t even fit the frame — unless I’m missing something and that’s intentional, too. Would you assume that at least somebody on the store’s management team is looking at the outside of the store and might try to fix this? (Or a regional manager? Anybody?) If they don’t care about the outside of the store, how about the tired old interior?

This is a small example of the problems that are dragging down Sears, despite its best efforts to tout tactics like layaway, in-store pickup, Sears Your Way, and so forth. The bottom line is that the store experience, from merchandise content to presentation, still matters.

And one more thing, speaking of Sears Your Way: Why does the same Samsung digital point & shoot wifi camera cost $150 at Sears but $90 on Amazon? How does Sears plan to make its omnichannel strategy work if it’s totally uncompetitive?

Macy’s: Finally on a roll

Macy’s seems to be heading into a period when it is finally putting the merger-and-consolidation issues in the rear mirror so that it can focus on merchandising initiatives–many of which seem to be paying off. It is also in a position of significant strength compared to its key department store competitors–not only JCPenney but especially regional laggards like Dillard’s and Bon Ton Stores. If anything, it’s repositioning as a more “upmarket” store than its competitors is paying off as the economy slowly revives. There are still plenty of merchandise content and execution challenges, but Macy’s is heading in the right direction.