By  on April 18, 2007

Bloomingdale's is finally opening in South Coast Plaza and has created a showcase it promises will stand out in a crowded, competitive landscape.

The unit is the upscale department store's second major assault on California in six months; it opened a downtown San Francisco flagship in September.

With a facade that glows at night, two four-star restaurants and an impressive array of designer shops and vendors, the retailer's 291,000-square-foot, three-level unit in South Coast Plaza is expected to generate $80 million to $90 million in annual sales, according to market sources. That's just a tad under the projected volume of Bloomingdale's 300,000-square-foot San Francisco flagship, and a level that would rank the store among the chain's top three locations outside Manhattan, along with the stores in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The 59th Street flagship in Manhattan is easily the chain's volume leader, generating roughly $575 million in sales.

The $2.3 billion Bloomingdale's has long hungered for a site at South Coast Plaza, one of America's largest and most productive shopping centers. The 2.8 million-square-foot megamall, located in Costa Mesa, Calif., about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, generates $1.6 billion in annual sales, or about 90 percent of what downtown San Francisco generates in retail sales.

The center is also the site of Nordstrom's top-volume unit, said to generate more than $180 million in sales. And Macy's has a huge presence, operating separate men's, women's and home stores that, combined, yield $160 million in sales.

Almost every top nameplate has found a place at South Coast Plaza, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. It took a little longer for Bloomingdale's to find a spot there. Years ago, the retailer was rebuffed by the anchors and was forced to take an alternative location in Newport Beach, Calif., at Fashion Island mall in 1996, more than seven miles from South Coast Plaza. The Fashion Island store will lose some business to its new sister in South Coast Plaza, but Bloomingdale's hopes to minimize the impact by renovating the unit and retraining sales associates.

"With all due respect to all the other terrific centers in the U.S., I think South Coast Plaza is the premium upscale center in North America. It's got every designer shop you can think of," said Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale's. "South Coast Plaza has been on my mind forever."But it wasn't until Federated Department Stores' takeover of May Department Stores two years ago that a site became available. Bloomingdale's has completely gutted the former Robinsons-May unit.

The new Bloomingdale's is the chain's 38th unit and eighth in California. It will sell such designer and bridge collections as Giorgio Armani Black Label, Armani Collezione, Akris Punto, St. John Collection, Sonia Rykiel, Burberry, Tory Burch, Elie Tahari, Ralph Lauren Black Label and M Missoni.

Contemporary collections will include Diane von Furstenberg, Vince, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture, Theory, Da-Nang and the private label Aqua. Accessories and fine jewelry brands offered include David Yurman, John Hardy, Judith Ripka, Baume & Mercier, Ferragamo, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Fendi, and some key cosmetic vendors are Mac, Kiehl's and Jo Malone.

For the Orange County customer, "status names are very important, particularly in accessories and jewelry," Gould said.

The store makes its debut May 2 with a charity gala for the Orange County Performing Arts Center and opens to the general public May 4. A battery of events, more than 200, and a plethora of designer appearances have been lined up for the season, which is necessary at South Coast Plaza, where there's no shortage of competition. Everything sold at Bloomingdale's, with the exception of private label, can be found elsewhere in the mall, and Gould readily acknowledged that.

However, he said much of the competition in the mall is a good distance away. "From Nordstrom to our door, it's 1,400 feet. Saks is also about 1,400 feet. That's the equivalent of about five city blocks. At our end of the center, we've created a destination. We've created the unexpected. People like to have different environments to shop in, and we've defined ourselves by creating a whole other ambience."

Gould considers the South Coast Plaza store an evolution from two seminal Bloomingdale's openings: the compact, 79,000-square-foot SoHo unit opened in New York in 2004, which has an assortment skewed to the downtown contemporary customer, and the San Francisco store, the chain's largest branch and the most advanced in terms of ease of shopping, spacious interior design, and designer and contemporary offerings."We've learned that a department store can give the customer something unexpected — architectural drama, broad vistas, wider aisles and shallower presentations, so the merchandise is always very close to you. The merchandising remains the most important thing."

Acknowledging the competition at South Coast Plaza, Jack Hruska, Bloomingdale's executive vice president of creative services, noted, "We do have a lot of duplication, but we have the right mix and how we mix our merchandise is what makes Bloomingdale's unique."

The Bloomingdale's store, at 3333 Bristol Street, will be like a beacon. The south facade has two layers of glass, and the inside one is illuminated at night, so the store glows white.

There is another draw. Bloomingdale's is signing deals for two four-star restaurants that will occupy prime spots in the store, by the main entrance, and about 20,000 square feet in total. The names of the restaurants and their "marquee chefs" will be revealed at a later date, Gould said.

"We feel food is real important," he added. "We know someone who eats in one of our restaurants spends more in the store than other shoppers who don't eat in the store. If you go to Paris, London or Tokyo, you see how retailers treat food. At Selfridges, Harrods, Bon Marché, it's a whole different world….We sent out a survey in Orange County by e-mail and learned that 86 percent of the respondents said dining out was their first form of entertainment."

Going to the beach and attending cultural activities ranked second and third. The restaurants will be leased and are opening in the fall.

Bloomingdale's wants to re-create the excitement of the flagships in New York and San Francisco, and advance the store's designer presentation, but Gould and Hruska emphasized the South Coast Plaza unit would fit with the community's casual attitudes. Colorations will reflect the local palette. There are no hard shops, only ones bearing the signature Bloomingdale's black trim, and a special shopping bag has been created for the store, with a colorful design that plays down the Bloomingdale's logo.

"The important point here is that the South Coast Plaza store reflects our evolution, beginning with SoHo, when we learned that, as a department store, we can deliver the unexpected, and it's a blending of what we created in San Francisco and Chestnut Hill," said Gould. "That defines our South Coast Plaza store the best."Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon Associates, characterized the store as "a sequel to the San Francisco opening with the same subset of competition, but without Neiman Marcus. What Bloomingdale's brings is a unique combination of all the families of business for today's modern department store, including home furnishings, fashion in better-bridge-designer price points and a powerful presentation for the contemporary customer."

The next Bloomingdale's opening is in Chevy Chase, Md., in the fall, but beyond that, no others are set. There are major renovations in the works, including a redo of the Aventura, Fla., store; the metro level for men's wear and the fifth floor for home products at the 59th Street flagship, and the men's store in the Chestnut Hill mall.

"I don't know if we're headed for a cooling-off period, but we don't have any new plans for new stores" after Chevy Chase, Gould said. "We feel very good about how we've been able to grow our comp-store business and EBIT, while opening new stores."

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