By  on September 12, 2007

ATLANTA — One era is ending and another beginning this week as 25 Parisian stores in the Southeast formally change to Belk, which bought the luxury chain from Saks Inc. last year for $285 million.

Family-owned Belk Inc. today will launch a marketing blitz, touted as "The Nature of Fashion Is Change," to get former Parisian customers comfortable with the new name. The initiative includes trunk shows, giveaways and prize drawings. Changing the signs and in-store visuals of Parisian stores was completed in the past two weeks.

The first 250 customers in each store will receive gift cards ranging from $5 to $10,000. Drawings include trip giveaways — to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.; the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami; the Waterford Crystal factory in Ireland, and other locations.

Belk will also present a $5,000 check to separate charities in each of the store's cities.

Since buying Birmingham, Ala.-based Parisian, Belk Inc., with 300 stores in 16 Southern states and volume estimated at $3.1 billion, has spent $100 million to update the stores, expanding and refurbishing key locations, such as Town Center in north Atlanta and The Summit in Birmingham. Belk designated two of the Parisian acquisitions — The Summit and Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, as flagships, joining Belk locations in SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, N.C., and Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C.

In these and other select markets, Belk has added more designer and contemporary lines, such as Trina Turk, BCBG Max Azria, Froxx, Steve Madden, Theory, Cole Haan and Donald J Pliner. Home stores have also expanded, along with men's wear and men's special sizes.

All of these efforts have sought to assure Parisian customers that, while the name is changing, the shopping experience will maintain the same cachet.

"Change is difficult," said Steve Pernotto, executive vice president of Belk, alluding to the emotions some customers feel when a name with rich heritage is lost. He said Belk had worked hard to adapt all of Parisian's best practices, such as customer service, to make the transition more palatable.

"People remember the family-owned Parisian more than the corporate Parisian," Pernotto said. "Belk is a family-owned business, and in many ways, is still like Parisian used to be. We see this as 'back to the future.'"Last month Charlotte-based Belk reported its second-quarter net income rose to $17.2 million from $14.9 million a year ago, a 15.4 percent increase. Net income for the quarter ended July 30, excluding noncomparable items, rose 23.3 percent, to $18.5 million from $15 million in the year-ago period.

Net income for the first six months increased $2.5 million, or 6.4 percent, to $41.5 million. Net income excluding noncomparable items increased $3.2 million to $42.6 million.

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