BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — No one grows old here, just better.
Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills is celebrating its 25th anniversary Thursday. So, like many aging grande dames in this neighborhood, the 180,000-square-foot concrete monolith on Wilshire Boulevard will undergo some cosmetic surgery.
Starting March 15, a Prada in-store shop will debut on the second floor, and aweek later, workers will begin to add 3,000 square feet to the basement level to allow for more children’s merchandise, said store president and general manager John Martens, who’s presided here for nearly the entire quarter-century.
In April, Shu Uemura will take its existing stockkeeping units exclusively to the unit’s cosmetics department, located on the first floor. Uemura and Neiman’s are testing a new assisted open-sell counter design — intended to resemble a backstage environment that includes a “color playground” with all the brand’s color cosmetics, as well as a sink where skin care items can be demonstrated. The plan is to roll the counter out to all Uemura doors.
Then, to meet this city’s demand for more accessories, Neiman’s plans to stock more handbags from Christian Dior, YSL and Bottega Veneta.
Finally, a total rehaul of the store’s third-floor contemporary level calls for “greatly enhanced, up-to-date lighting” and new in-store shops for Eskandar and Piazza Sempione, as well as an expanded boutique for St. John Knits, said Martens. Their opening dates have not been set yet.
All told, improvements are estimated to exceed $1 million, said analysts.
“It’s in line with our wish to keep this store on an updated track,” Martens said, declining to confirm the estimated cost and specific square footages of the shops, citing an understanding with vendors. “It’s a high-profile market and [requires] changing to maximize business opportunities.”
Over the years, the store has exhibited flexibility. Stanley Marcus, while strict about his edict not to place designer names above the Neiman Marcus moniker, was even more adamant about evolving with the times, said Martens. Thus, the reason for becoming more collection-focused.
It started in the early Eighties, when the store trailed Saks Fifth Avenue and I. Magnin’s units here in sales. The general manager was given carte blanche to invite European designers Valentino and Emanuel Ungaro, while the store’s merchants at that time also embraced younger American designers like Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. Customers responded to the new names that had not been readily available in their town. “It did a lot for our reputation,” Martens said.In the Nineties, as fashion houses bought back their franchises on Rodeo Drive, the store continued to serve customers larger helpings of collections. Now, almost exclusively, the store groups collections with tiny placards indicating names, not categories.
Martens stops short of envisioning a large specialty store that houses only in-store shops as some analysts have predicted. “There will always be those new designers that you layer in,” he said. “You try to get some freshness and newness. So there will always be, I hope, some open areas where you can house new merchandise and brands. You don’t want to cut those out because of their fairly good margins.”
So, for his next act, Martens is going after a group of already-established customers that aren’t reaching their spending potential. “Some of them are new account holders and some have a good relationship with us, but perhaps they buy only cosmetics and not shoes, for example,” he said. “We want to service them more fully and get a larger share of their disposable income.” Neiman’s plans to entice them with deals and provide sales associates who do their homework on what accessories will complement outfits.
It’s this ability to adapt to an ever-changing business that once prompted Fred Hayman, founder of Giorgio Beverly Hills and Fred Hayman Beverly Hills, to call the unit an ideal “prototype,” a “highly personalized operation” and “the best of Beverly Hills.”
Financial sources claim the store is the jewel in Neiman’s crown, notching about $150 million in sales annually, or, about $800 to $900 a square foot. If the experts are correct, those sales are the highest in the group’s fleet of 35 stores and beat out the Beverly Hills units of Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York by a fair margin. Officials at the retailer’s Dallas headquarters declined to confirm sales figures.
Its reputation among the typical customer — jet-setters, mostly women in their mid-to-late 40s who prefer to be casual by day and spiffy by night — is hard to beat. The shoe department is one of the best in town, so hot at times, efficient sales associates achieve not only prominent placement in pda’s but celebrity status among clients.Socialite Barbara Davis said she often makes a day of it: “You start out at the Mariposa restaurant to eat the best popovers in the whole world. Then you need exercise. My exercise is the escalator and I do about five laps. And then you cover every floor. I remember when my grandchildren were younger, yogurt would magically appear. They’ve gone out of their way for us. Nobody needs a psychiatrist if you can just go shopping, get some exercise, get nourished and be happy.”
It’s this kind of gushing Martens said the store strives for. “People really have got to come in here and really be excited by what we have to offer —they’ve got to have good service, they’ve got to feel good, they’ve got to be recognized, acknowledged and made to feel special,” he said. “Shopping should be a pleasure.”
To fete the door in high style marking its quarter-century milestone, there will be a gala to benefit the Beverly Hills Cultural Center and Children’s Theater. Martens said much of the details have yet to be ironed out, including a date, but he confirmed talks are taking place with “a top designer with a hot-off-the-press European collection.”
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