By  on May 8, 2007

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Bloomingdale's scored the chain's biggest opening day at its 248,000-square-foot store in South Coast Plaza here on Thursday, posting $1.5 million to $1.6 million in sales, market sources said.

The launch was a confidence builder for Bloomingdale's in its four-year-old brand strategy of raising the bar with each market entry. It also has executives forecasting that South Coast Plaza might be the best or second best branch, matching or exceeding the performance of the 337,000-square-foot San Francisco flagship that opened in September, which held the previous opening-day record of about $1 million.

On the night before the opening, Michael Gould, Bloomingdale's chairman and chief executive officer, surveyed the 850 guests at the store party benefiting the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and thought aloud that the community had a sophisticated and healthy appetite for shopping that surpassed other California markets. "I can just feel it," Gould said. "This is a spectacular, fashion-oriented crowd, from an upscale point of view. You can see what people are wearing — their shoes, their handbags."

It hasn't always been easy for Bloomingdale's in the Golden State. Some California store openings in the Nineties lacked the sophisticated look and designer lines of new or renovated units such as South Coast Plaza, San Francisco, Manhattan's SoHo, and Chestnut Hill, Mass. Bloomingdale's embarked on a brand strategy in 2002 to differentiate from the department store crowd and sell limited distributed contemporary and designer lines and cosmetic brands that other department stores wouldn't carry. The retailer also sought to narrow the price gap with Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and quell comparisons with Macy's, which, like Bloomingdale's, is a division of Federated Department Stores.

"Since 2001, the average unit sale has increased at a compounded rate of 9.5 percent a year," Gould said. "The upscale designer business — nondepartment store lines — in 2001 represented 44 percent of our business. It's currently exactly 70 percent of our business." He described Bloomingdale's gradual but steady buildup of designer offerings as "just an ongoing process of chipping away. Why did Chanel sell us here? Why did Vuitton? They saw what transpired in San Francisco. Now, South Coast Plaza represents incremental business opportunities for high-end designers."

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