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More Than Sundries for Sale

Hotels are out to conquer the next retail frontier - better fashion - with shops offering more than souvenir T-shirts and mugs or forgotten toiletries.

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MIAMI — Hotel guests here are picking up more than magazines, sunscreen and souvenirs at the lobby gift shop, and their well of choices runs fashionably deep, including Prada Sport cargos, Creed fragrances and Blumarine floral knits with ribbons.

The transition comes as hotels look to conquer the next frontier — better fashion retail, with more than a shop for souvenir T-shirts and mugs or forgotten toiletries — after incorporating the spa, nightlife and dining industries into their on-site operations. The level of involvement varies from stores that are owned and operated by the hotel chain itself, outsourced to a proven specialty retailer, or niched with an exclusive vendor or two, and it’s not limited to hip boutique hotels.

“The fact is that you can make money,” said Megan Weber, corporate retail buyer for The Ritz-Carlton, “because sometimes the only free time people have to shop is on a trip, even if it’s business.”

She describes a typical scenario as a guest popping into The Signature Shop for a tube of suntan lotion and leaving with a glitzy TechnoMarine watch for $150 to $2,500. “It’s the ‘wow’ factor — that the Ritz actually carries all these things.”

Joining the company in 2000, Weber was promoted to head buyer in 2002, when her 1,300-square-foot store at the Key Biscayne, Fla., property grossed sales of $2.2 million. Her location’s brand-conscious inventory mirrors that of many successful contemporary stores with women’s wear lines like Trina Turk, Nanette Lepore and C.J. Laing, denim from Blue Cult and AG, swimwear by Manuel Canovas and Vix, and accessories by Chan Lu and Wendy Brigode. Prices match those of outside boutiques, too, such as Lulu Guinness’ embellished handbags for $100 to $900 or Lady Lanell’s Swarovski crystal sandals for $145.

“People think that just because a hamburger is $25 here, that we mark up the clothing prices. They are really surprised by our reasonable prices,” she said, adding the two most expensive lines are Blumarine and Tocca. Retail prices for Tocca range from $78 for a top to $280 for a dress, while Blumarine runs from $245 for a top to $700 for a pair of jeans, which are generally in line with those brands’ prices at other stores.

Weber has been instrumental in changing the perception of her corporate-minded executives as well. There were many raised eyebrows when she put out some fun bustiers in the Key Biscayne resort’s smaller spa shop. But after those items sold within a week, it was noted that the Ritz’s older guest profile had evolved into a more youthful one that wants Red Line tracksuits, Eberjey lingerie and Me fizzy bath balls. The hot merchandise is desirable enough to attract nonguests in the same way that they would come to the hotel to have tea or use the spa services.

“It used to be that hotel shops were more like WH Smith sundries and logo apparel stores. That’s not the case anymore,” said Weber, who is already buying for new Ritz boutiques in South Beach and Orlando, Fla., and Bachelor Gulch, Colo.

When the Shore Club in Miami Beach wanted a serious store for its all-inclusive property, it tapped New York-based Scoop in 2000. The 1,550-square-foot space operates on the same level as the specialty retail chain’s six other locations, averaging $1,500 to $2,000 a square foot, according to partner Stefani Greenfield. The retailer was so committed, it relocated its top salesperson and manager to Miami.

“The only minor differences are that 80 percent of the merchandise is spring-summer, and it’s seasonal, but we make up for that during high season,” she said, “and people come in to shop in their bathrobes, or barefoot in swimsuits.”

The store carries a hodgepodge from pick-up items like Paul Smith toothbrushes and Cosabella thongs to men’s and women’s wear, accessories and shoes. Bestsellers are Joie cargo pants, anything in terrycloth by Juicy Couture, and jeans from Seven and Paper Denim & Cloth. Higher-priced lines including Marc Jacobs and Jil Sander also sell, primarily owing to the high rate of visitation by New Yorkers.

Greenfield estimates that a quarter of shoppers are nonguests who drive from as far as Palm Beach and Boca Raton. “We also get a lot of business while people are waiting for tables at Ago or Nobu,” she said.

The concept has worked out so well for both parties that different hotels are approaching Scoop to open on-site stores, though Greenfield wouldn’t mention any names yet.

The Peninsula Chicago hotel doesn’t have a full-scale clothing store, but it wanted something luxurious and exclusive to the city. Shanghai Tang seemed the best choice to go with the company’s Asian roots and vibe. Shoppers, of which up to a quarter are nonhotel guests, find select items from the broad line, including red silk pajamas with green brocade for $225, and black and fuchsia silk scarves for $125.

“The store is tiny, about 14 by 11 feet, but it attracts a very specific clientele who travel and know this line,” said Augusto Gomes, director of front office relations.

To entice those who might not be familiar with the line, the boutique also carries Vosges chocolates. “Once they see the merchandise though, they’re hooked, especially during the holidays,” he said.

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