By and  on August 20, 2010

Bloomingdale’s has a new spin on shopping outlets, which it begins putting to the test today.

The upscale chain is opening its first fashion outlet at Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, Va., seeking to maintain the allure of the treasure hunt, but with less digging through the racks. A second outlet will launch Aug. 27 in the Bergen Town Center in Paramus, N.J.

“Both are very shoppable and, at the same time, the customer feels there is a density of merchandise,” said Arnold Orlick, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president in charge of outlets. “They’re clean, simple, bright environments that feel like Bloomingdale’s but they’re not.”

Sixty to 70 percent of the merchandise comprises excess goods from vendors; 20 percent is clearance from Bloomingdale’s regular stores, and 10 to 20 percent is manufactured specifically for the outlets. “The lion’s share of the goods are 40 to 60 percent off,” Orlick said, though discounts can be as much as 80 percent.

The retailer plans four or five openings a year if the concept succeeds.

“Bergen and Potomac are very important tests,” Orlick said. “The question is whether there is cannibalization or no cannibalization” of Bloomingdale’s stores.

The outlets are marked by black-and-white checkerboard aisles, evoking the B-way in Bloomingdale’s full-line stores. But the aisles are vinyl, not the usual marble. The black-white motif is repeated on signs and fixtures, offset by pops of color from the clothing and wall art resembling designer sketches. The outlets also have polished concrete floors and exposed ceilings, giving them the utilitarian vibe of a sleek warehouse or loft.

“An outlet store can be stylish,” said Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services at Bloomingdale’s. And flexible, as well, he added, with rolling fixtures and shelves that can be shifted from wall to floor displays so departments may be reconfigured depending on the size of vendor shipments.

With 22,000 square feet of selling space each, the outlets are smaller than those of most major competitors. They’re not piled as high with merchandise in order to reduce rummaging. They’re still heavily stocked with men’s and women’s apparel, accessories, shoes, kids’, outerwear and intimate apparel, but no home, cosmetics or fragrance.

At the Potomac Mills unit, a row of signs in the center aisle includes the cheeky message “Are you dreaming? No, silly. This is real,” and touts everyday discounts of 25 to 70 percent. Labels range from contemporary to bridge to designer, including Tory Burch, Burberry, BCBG Max Azria, Michael Michael Kors, DKNY, Elie Tahari, Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. Men’s brands include Theory, Joseph Abboud, Canali and Hugo by Hugo Boss.

There’s an extensive shoe and accessories section with its own bank of registers and handbags from Botkier, Salvatore Ferragamo, Cole Haan and Tadashi Shoji. Shoe brands include Stuart Weitzman, Converse and Ugg, and there are sunglasses from Jimmy Choo, Gucci and Michael Kors, among others. Denim includes Paige Denim, J Brand, Not Your Daughter’s Jeans, Joe’s Jeans, Rock & Republic and Seven For All Mankind.

Bloomingdale’s will open an outlet in Dolphin Outlet Center in Miami in October and another in Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, Fla., in November.

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