By  on August 27, 2007

Bloomingdale's isn't about to take a breather in its expansion spree.

And wherever the department store goes — be it Chevy Chase, Md., the next stop, or China, not on the agenda yet but recently scouted along with a slew of other locations — there's bound to be a different twist or two.

The Chevy Chase unit, opening Sept. 27 in the Wisconsin Place mixed-use open-air center, introduces an innovative, compact home format and the chain's most upscale assortment in the region. At 182,458 square feet over three levels, the store is significantly smaller than the average Bloomingdale's branch at 230,000 to 250,000 square feet.

It's just that flexibility and the ability to create new formats, as well as healthy sales and profits, that is fueling Bloomingdale's willingness to tackle more and more locations, including some that dictate adaptations and don't necessarily fit the mold. Sites in Arizona, Texas and the Pacific Northwest — including Phoenix, Dallas and Seattle — are said to be on the radar, as well as Asia, which isn't a new notion. Sixteen years ago, Bloomingdale's almost inked a deal for a store in Japan, licensed to Tokyu Department Stores, but a severe recession in the country killed the plan.

With 39 stores currently operating, Bloomingdale's is on a path to crack $3 billion in sales within the next few years. It should hit $2.6 billion in sales in 2007, after opening three stores in California, in San Francisco, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and San Diego, and a fourth in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in a 12-month period. The Chevy Chase store is expected to do $50 million in annual sales, according to sources.

"Macy's Inc. would very much like to see Bloomingdale's have a very intensive growth program over the next few years," Michael Gould, Bloomingdale's chairman and chief executive officer, said in an interview. "We are exploring a number of opportunities throughout the country. An awful lot of developers and real estate people have been pursuing us."

Asked if Bloomingdale's could go overseas, Gould responded: "We are looking at opportunities in many places. We have had terrific growth in the top line and bottom line. We think SoHo [in Manhattan] and San Francisco have proven to us there are many different footprints we think could serve as a successful Bloomingdale's store. We need to find different equations for allocating space by family of business."In Chevy Chase, shoppers will discover a Ralph Lauren-inspired home area on the top floor displaying tabletop and textiles mixed in with furniture, like a series of galleries. "It's a very lifestyle approach in a much smaller configuration, 18,000 square feet, or about 10 percent of the whole store. Usually home represents 25 percent of the store," said Gould. "If Ralph Lauren or Giorgio Armani can do it, why couldn't we do it? We want to present home the same way, the way we do it in a customer's home."

"Instead of compartmentalizing, like having a linen department or a bedding department, the assortments are broken down by lifestyle into two major categories, casual/contemporary and updated/traditional, with some furniture mixed in," explained Edward Calabrese, creative director of the retail group at Mancini Duffy Architecture Design, which has a history of projects with Bloomingdale's, including Chevy Chase, where Calabrese said visual teams are being challenged to present goods in room-like settings or big vignettes. "There is a lot of cross-merchandising," Calabrese said, considering department demarcations don't exist.

The home concept also has galleries showcasing crystal collections displayed in mirrored étagères, as well as galleries for silver, kitchen gadgets, dinnerware and the gift registry. "There is a great deal of flexibility because it's a large open space," Calabrese said.

Men's is also on three. The main floor will display fashion accessories, dresses and coats, and ready-to-wear will be on two.

In the Washington, D.C., area Bloomingdale's also has units in White Flint, Md., and Tysons Corner, Va. "White Flint is close, but we think [Chevy Chase] has a very different matrix," said Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services. "The assortments in Chevy Chase are of the ilk of San Francisco in many respects. There is a good blend of contemporary to classic goods."

In addition, the designer shops in the Chevy Chase store are "tighter, but proportional in size to our other stores that have them, considering Chevy Chase is smaller," with 139,000 square feet for selling. "We've been able to personalize a lot of them."

There are several shops, including Burberry, Ralph Lauren Black Label, Armani Collezioni, St. John, Elie Tahari, Tory Burch, Coach, Longchamp, Ferragamo, Marc Jacobs and Links of London. Key vendors in domestics include Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan Essentials, and Charisma; tabletop vendors include Baccarat, Fabergé, Michael Aram and William Yeoward; furniture includes Thomas O'Brien, Barbara Barry and Vermont Tubs. Hruska also indicated that selling associates in home are trained to sell across all categories and labels.The store has an At Your Service personal shopping area designed like an ode to Dorothy Draper with Forties-style black-and-white stripes, white plaster sconces and mid-century furniture; a circular escalator well with a 40-foot diameter, a domed skylight and three-story-tall black mirrored glass columns; a mobile designed by sculptor Brandon d'Leo, and a red brick exterior for a Georgetown look. The rtw and intimate apparel areas strongly reflect the colors, textures and spirit of the retailer's 59th Street flagship in New York.

Within a few blocks of Wisconsin Place, located at 5400 Wisconsin Avenue, are Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, though Bloomingdale's sets a more contemporary and slightly younger tone.

The space Bloomingdale's is entering was first intended for Hecht's, which was part of the former May Co. Construction on the building, but not its interior, had begun before Macy's Inc. acquired May two years ago. Without the merger, Bloomingdale's would have been unable to move into affluent Chevy Chase. Similarly, in South Coast Plaza, May anchors for years kept Bloomingdale's out, but the merger gave the company an opening.

Chevy Chase is just one of several locations where Bloomingdale's has unveiled new concepts. The entrance of the San Francisco store, for example, heralds tony Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton shops, both firsts for Bloomingdale's. SoHo showcases the brand's first setting for primarily contemporary fashion. In Chestnut Hill, a children's area stocked with European designs almost feels like a separate specialty shop.

While other retailers take a cookie-cutter approach, Bloomingdale's finds ways to deliver a different nuance to each community it enters along with the flavor of the 59th Street flagship with its signature black trim and mix of contemporary, bridge and designer labels. "There is a consistency but not a sameness," Calabrese observed.

Bloomingdale's last major expansion drive was in 1996, when the chain entered California with four stores in two weeks, but Gould feels the latest growth spurt has been the most pivotal for brand-building and demonstrating the chain's portability. "This is more intensive because the openings ranged from Southern California to Boston to Washington, D.C. — three states and five different markets. The other big difference is how we have evolved. The quality of the merchandise and assortments are different. There is a totally different mind-set for customer service. In San Francisco, South Coast Plaza and Chestnut Hill, more than any other stores, we have been able to translate the 59th Street experience better than any other stores."It's the assortments, service and store ambience that conveys 59th Street. In San Francisco, we are not trying to be anyone else," he continued. "For us to be successful in San Francisco is enormously rewarding." It's a market where Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue do major volumes, well in excess of $100 million.

"We feel very confident about Bloomingdale's future and ability to expand by enhancing what we've been able to accomplish," Gould added, citing a main floor renovation in the Aventura, Fla., store, and various improvements inside 59th Street, such as the new Forty Carrots restaurant and dress department. "We are working on different formats for different areas," Gould said. "The power of the brand is enormous, but don't lose sight of what has transpired at 59th Street."

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