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Amid the nation’s deepest slump since The Great Depression, Bloomingdale’s has come up with a bold response — rebuilding the entire 60,000-square-foot main floor of the Manhattan flagship.
This story first appeared in the August 14, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The department store is just two months from completing the project and unleashing a barrage of advertising and events touting 59th Street as “the biggest makeover in NYC.” There will be 525 events in cosmetics alone through December.
According to sources, the renovation cost $45 million to $55 million including vendor contributions, and vendors are hoping for 10 to 20 percent sales gains as a result.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer. “When you see all of the new installations, it will blow your socks off. Every solitary resource has a new shop. It’s like a brand-new store.”
The main floor includes beauty, fragrance, designer handbags and leather goods, fine and costume jewelry, fashion accessories, watches, sunglasses, men’s dress shirts, furnishings and ties. The floor will officially be launched Oct. 15.
“This is the culmination of the biggest renovation in the history of 59th Street,” added Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services, store design and visual merchandising.
The master plan for the flagship, an effort to elevate productivity and amplify the energy of Bloomingdale’s while enabling brands to project their images as well, started in 2004 with the renovation of contemporary sportswear on the second level. In the years that followed, the New View bridge floor on three, intimate apparel on two, shoes on four, dresses and coats on five, men’s contemporary on the metro level, as well the furniture, rug and mattresses departments, were all renovated. On the main floor this year, the fragrance department, a three-level Louis Vuitton shop and areas for jewelry and handbags were all completed and, within about a week, the lower level for men’s is expected to be finished.
Overall, the renovation retains the B’way for beauty, as well as the A’way for accessories, but otherwise it’s a total transformation that introduces a host of brands new to the store, as well as unique shop concepts.
At the core is a three-hall beauty complex with soaring walls for vendor installations, wider aisles and an easier traffic flow like a grid, instead of the old congested and truncated configuration.
Hruska and Francine Klein, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of accessories, cosmetics and fine jewelry, came up with the idea to construct the high walls.
“I didn’t get it. I couldn’t see it,” said Gould, who felt the effect would further enclose the floor. But the team convinced Gould that it wouldn’t, and constructed 13-foot-high-by-30-foot-wide walls, creating a dramatic effect with portals that demarcate the rooms, and with Bloomingdale’s signature black lacquer trim, known internally as the “eyelid.”
The beauty walls and columns provide additional opportunities to display the latest in visual display technology and interactivity. The columns for the first time will be utilized by the vendors for branding purposes such as video panels, graphics and transparencies for theatrical effect. Clinique, for example, is creating a ticker tape, reminiscent of Times Square.
“The whole place is alive,” Gould said. “Everyone is coming in with something technologically advanced. It doesn’t feel like just one shop after another. The vendors maintain their identity within the Bloomingdale’s identity. Our customers want brands within the Bloomingdale’s setting.”
Relocating most of men’s wear to the metro and lower levels enabled the store to significantly expand the beauty and handbag businesses.
In total, beauty grew to 25,400 square feet from 21,000, while designer handbags increased to 11,000 square feet from 7,740. Fashion accessories was relocated to Third Avenue from Lexington, and the front arcade is now entirely designer handbags.
In beauty, six brands are being added: Bare Escentuals, Jo Malone, Shu Uemura, Sisley, Bumble and bumble and Giorgio Armani. Space NK, with its own range of products and labels, was added in November. There are a total of 26 beauty brands on the floor. Of the 26, only one, La Mer, stayed in its same location, but, like all the others, it will have a new look.
In handbags, accessories and jewelry, new resources include Stella McCartney, Michael Stars, Eileen Fisher Daddy Longlegs, Ugg, D&D, Me&Ro, Helen Ficalora, Links of London, Janis Savitt, Elizabeth and James, Seasonal Whispers and James Swette. In sunglasses and watches, new vendors are Carrera, Burberry, David Yurman, Timex, Adidas and G-Shock.
Newness, enhanced service and a renewed sense that something is going on at Bloomingdale’s are critical considering business there has been tough, even tougher than at its sister division, Macy’s. While the main floor remains very productive, exceeding $2,000 in sales per square foot, the company acknowledges consumers are shopping less frequently and spending less. It’s betting on the new environment; stepped-up efforts at clienteling and encouraging vendors to provide better service, and beefed-up special events to reverse the downtrend.
“We spent three days in September with every cosmetic company to review shop [designs] and merchandise,” Gould said. “I don’t care if its Abu Dhabi, Bangkok or Moscow — tell us what your best three locations are” and take the design to a new level from there. “We also discussed how to drive clienteling and events to a whole new level, and how to elevate the quality of the staffs. The environment is very important, but people also come here because they had a sales associate that made them feel good.”
As far as staging more events and making them more impactful, Gould said: “That’s part of our DNA, more than anyone else.” Furthering the cause, a 1,300-square-foot “cosmetic studio” on the 60th Street side of the store has been created to stage “master classes” in applying makeup, personal appearances and parties.
Gould repeatedly stressed how the store is making strides in enriching the people factor — improved service, salesmanship and merchandising while sharpening techniques for luring consumers back into the store.
The need for this was driven home by the results of a study Bloomingdale’s did with Clinique that indicated 50 percent of that brand’s customers return to make additional purchases only once a year.
Although only about 4,000 square feet more was captured in beauty, the new floor creates the illusion of greater spaciousness, with about 60 percent of the added footage applied to create wider aisles.
Some vendors actually reduced their square footage, but with the walls and advanced merchandising they expect to still be more productive. “We worked out a way to use the space more efficiently,” Hruska noted. Some key brands will be gaining space, such as David Yurman, which grows to 85 linear feet from 40 and is building a shop that will be inspired by its upcoming flagship on Madison Avenue.
Louis Vuitton doubled the size of its boutique on the main floor in February. It now features a broadened brand experience that includes leather goods, sunglasses and fashion accessories, from a distinct area for men’s product to a women’s shoe salon and a bag bar.
“This is really a landmark and historic destination, and our experience is that the Bloomingdale’s customer is very loyal,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, senior vice president of the Northeast and Midwest regions at Louis Vuitton. “They are really adding and expanding their offering and elevating the customer experience. Everyone has different stores, and everyone is putting their best foot forward in terms of bringing new concepts and new layouts,” he added.
The shop is located at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 59th Street, with entrances at street level and from the main floor, and its nearly 3,900 square feet of selling space is spread across two floors and three levels. The store facade also has a double-story monogram panel that changes color.
“It’s a real store-within-a-store, and we are proud to have that store in such a historic landmark,” van Raemdonck said.
Thia Breen, president, North America, for the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., said the company has eight of its divisions represented on the beauty floor, including Lauder, Clinique, MAC, Bumble and bumble and Jo Malone. “We are really pushing them to make something very exciting out of the opening,” she said. For the first time, Lauder will coordinate the events of the brands through its corporate calendar to create maximum merchandising leverage.
Breen praised the design of the floor. She also seconded Gould’s claim that a greater-than-usual effort will be made to upgrade the selling experience. This applies particularly to the practice of clienteling, which uses a databank to tip off sales associates as to when consumers should be reminded to replenish product, for example.
“The Lauder companies are going to gain share on that floor,” Breen predicted. “That’s my commitment to Mike.”
“For the first time in my history with Bloomingdale’s — about 30 years — I think [Gould] will be able to change the flow of the floor,” said Phillip Shearer, ceo of Groupe Clarins worldwide. “B’way will still be the main way. But it will be more balanced.”
Serge Jureidini, president of Lancôme USA, cautioned the floor is not yet done. But he clearly was impressed by the concepts, the plan and the earliest completions. The architectural concept conveys “a perception of a growing space.”
Lancôme executives heeded Gould’s call to upgrade merchandising, improve customer service, increase ease of approach and ease of choice as well reaping the benefits of technology that has been developed around the world. As a result, the goal “is to make sure the space is even more inviting.”
Lancôme’s merchandising approach is twofold: to fulfill the expectations of tourists drawn to Bloomingdale’s as an iconic store, while still satisfying the loyal regular customers. Lancôme has a big business in Bloomingdale’s 59th Street, Jureidini noted, and the brand’s ambition is “to take the next step.”