By  on July 6, 2010

A block and a half from the Pacific Ocean, Bloomingdale’s is putting its SoHo template to the test.

The department store chain on Aug. 6 will open a two-level, 101,000-square-foot unit with 80,000 square feet for selling in the Santa Monica Place shopping center. Like the Bloomingdale’s unit in New York’s SoHo neighborhood that opened in April 2004, the Santa Monica, Calif., site represents a scaled down, sharply edited version of Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship — and where the company sees the future.

“In the 19 years I’ve been at Bloomingdale’s, I believe very strongly that there is no more important opening than Santa Monica,” stated Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer since 1991, during an exclusive interview with WWD. “It will be the proof that Terry and the Macy’s board need to say, ‘Whoa, this is a Bloomingdale’s rollout concept.’”

He was referring to Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc., parent corporation of Bloomingdale’s, who for the past several seasons has been bullish about Bloomingdale’s and funding its growth, and will be watching Santa Monica’s rate of productivity and return on investment before green lighting a rollout of similar-sized stores around the nation. While Bloomingdale’s is growing bloomingdales.com, opening its first fashion outlets this fall and considering more overseas sites in addition to the Dubai store opened last February, it’s the SoHo template that potentially represents the biggest growth vehicle.

“You have to ask, ‘How do we want to change with the times?’ With better edited assortments and an environment that appeals to a significant community within the context of the character and DNA of Bloomingdale’s,” said Gould. “This should [convince] Terry and the board to take a good hard look at the concept to determine where there are opportunities. We are driving dot-com, outlets, driving our four-wall businesses. As far as new opportunities, you have to show success first. We have to show we can do this well.”

For the $2.3 billion Bloomingdale’s, which accounts for about 10 percent of Macy’s Inc.’s sales and profits, there’s no going back to the old ways. “Many of our stores have too much space and too little productivity,” Gould acknowledged. Moreover, “there are not a lot of opportunities in the near future for 200,000-square-foot anchor stores” because either the real estate isn’t there, or the demographics are wrong. But there are opportunities for smaller SoHo-type Bloomingdale’s, such as in Dallas, Seattle, Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood and Phoenix. They’re all places where Bloomingdale’s does not operate but has reportedly examined.

The SoHo template, less than half the size of typical Bloomingdale’s branches, skews a tad younger and sells categories that generate higher sales per square foot — contemporary women’s and men’s sportswear, accessories, shoes, cosmetics and denim. The format excludes the less-productive home, special sizes and kids categories.

Bloomingdale’s Santa Monica should generate $35 million to $40 million in annual sales, sources said, compared to the $65 million the 80,000-square-foot, six-level SoHo store generates. Gould would not comment on sales, but said, “We are going to know after the first season how the customer feels. I also believe that opening a store isn’t like turning a faucet on. We have to be a neighborhood store. One of the things we did a pretty good job with was interpreting Bloomingdale’s in four different communities — SoHo, San Francisco, Dubai and now Santa Monica. In Atlanta we didn’t do it [at first]. There has to be a sensitivity about how we marry the Bloomingdale’s brand and DNA to the community. The store can’t just be young and trendy. It has to relate to the community.”

In the new Santa Monica unit, store officials promise elevated service intended to tighten ties to customers and deliver some theatrics to the selling floor through innovative fixturing and display. Bloomingdale’s will debut the “B-Style Lab,” a new model for personal service with eight associates steeped in product knowledge and trained to assist shoppers in any category. B-Style will include a lounge with Wi-Fi, bloomingdales.com, a flat-screen TV airing fashion shows and trend reports. The piece de resistance: four tubular, six-foot in diameter dressing rooms that through a sophisticated pulley system lift up and into the ceiling, thereby opening up a 1,500-square-foot event space for anything from fashion shows and designer appearances to benefit luncheons and yoga classes.

For further theatrics, Bloomingdale’s is creating a 200-foot track along the ceiling to convey across the selling floor mannequins, handbags or other products suspended from the ceiling, like a mobile fashion show.

“The store is several light years ahead. There is a whole different attitude of how we approach the customer. There will be a very high level of personal shopping that’s more high tech, and more appointment-based,” Gould said.

“It’s a loft at the beach, reinterpreting Bloomingdale’s with cabanas, high ceilings, cement floors and cement columns,” said Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services and store design, describing the site at 315 Colorado Avenue. “The challenge was to create a contemporary California aesthetic while still maintaining a very Bloomingdale’s iconic look. We were further challenged by the building. It’s a former Broadway department store opened in the early Eighties. It was a box with no windows.”

Bloomingdale’s performed major surgery, punching holes in the exterior to create windows and coating much of the facade with 10-inch-wide aluminum discs that shimmer in the wind.

“Anything that looks remotely like a department store is not in this store,” Hruska said. “It has all the Bloomingdale’s signatures, but reimagined.”

For a lighter, airier ambience, the black “eyebrow” border, framing many of the departments and shops in Bloomingdale’s stores, will be justtwo-inches wide in Santa Monica versus the usual 18 inches, and the ceilings are four feet higher, at 17 feet 8 inches. The familiar checkerboard B-Way is in polished cement for an industrial chic look, instead of the usual marble, and leads to interactive treatment bars such as the Benefit Brow Bar, and a French-inspired perfumery including Chanel, Dior and Creed. Jo Malone, Space NK, Trish McEvoy and La Prairie cosmetics are on the first floor as well along with women’s footwear, where shoes will be housed in a floor-to-ceiling wall of luminous white metal boxes. Shoe brands include Stuart Weitzman, Loeffler Randall, Belle by Sigerson Morrison and Tory Burch.

Elsewhere on the first floor: a sequined mural of the Santa Monica Pier to reflect the beach community; women’s handbags including See by Chloé, Rebecca Minkoff, Longchamp and Burberry; fine jewelry from David Yurman and John Hardy; watches from Michele and Michael Kors; fashion accessories including Alexis Bittar and Me & Ro, and a large selection of sunglasses from the likes of Dior, Tom Ford, Prada, Oliver Peoples and Ray-Ban. Men’ wear will be sold on the first floor as well, including James Perse, Richard Chai, Billy Reid, Hugo Boss, John Varvatos, Ralph Lauren and Loomstate.

On the second level, there will be women’s ready-to-wear, including Aqua, Diane von Furstenberg, Elizabeth & James, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Theory Helmut Lang and Vince merchandised in a unique way. Brands and classifications will be housed in cerused wood or lacquered “cabanas” lining the perimeter and protruding about four feet from the walls to catch customers’ eyes. Also on two: surfwear such as Quiksilver and Volcom, and denim from Citizens of Humanity, Current/Elliott, True Religion, Seven For All Mankind, Acne and J Brand. Fitting rooms, designed like beach shacks, light up when occupied. There will be some designer goods, but not the concentration seen in other Bloomingdale’s.

“I don’t want shoppers to think of Santa Monica as some SoHo clone,” Gould said. “I want them to know this is a store for Santa Monica — that happens to be a template that is SoHo.”

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