View Slideshow

NEW YORK — Macy’s Inc. might be thinking global, eyeing China and the Middle East for stores, yet it still acts local.

This story first appeared in the August 29, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That’s evident in the Bronx, where the retailer this month opened a three-level, 160,000-square-foot store in the Mall at Bay Plaza in Baychester, at the foot of Co-op City. It’s the first new store to be built by Macy’s in New York City in 40 years — the last time was on Queens Boulevard in Queens — and is a case study of how the company taps an urban market and micromanages the merchandising of the big national brands and private brands it carries throughout the chain.

Macy’s has opened several city doors through takeovers of existing boxes like Abraham & Straus and Stern’s, but the new enclosed 780,000-square-foot Bay Plaza, developed by Prestige Properties, enabled the 850-unit, $28 billion department store group to build from the ground up.

“As big as we are, we feel small. We feel connected,” said Randy Scalise, senior vice president and regional director of stores for Macy’s northeast region, and a 33-year veteran of the company.

On the selling floor, Scalise talks demographics and how Macy’s homes in, as part of its My Macy’s localization program. The Bronx store has a clean, crisp look, with ceramic white tiling and overhead LED lighting, but the distinction is in the merchandising. While the labels are predictable — tried and true brands like Michael Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Alfani, Calvin Klein, INC, Bar III and Charter Club, among others, seen across a range of categories — the styles, silhouettes and colors culled from the collections are what’s more site specific. The assortment will be continually tweaked as selling data and reads from selling associates and managers accumulate over time. For the launch, existing data from other urban stores, market research and old-fashioned merchant intuition inform how the store gets stocked.

“Here you are going to see an assortment variation that speaks to the individual,” Scalise said. “It’s more of a casual customer, younger with a little less disposable income. Someone who commutes. They’re avid public transportation users and it’s typically a young family that moves pretty often as the family grows, which creates more of a demand for home products, comfort shoes, athletic sneakers, tote bags, lightweight handbags. We’ve got a great menu.”

For Macy’s urban sites, Scalise stressed it’s not one-size-fits-all. “We don’t have an urban strategy.” Before the opening, for example, Scalise said Macy’s checked the area for schools that require uniforms. “In Brooklyn, a lot of schools require uniforms. Not so much here. Here, all the kids dress up for their family photos.…We micromanage to the detail. You are only new once. We take it very seriously and we have lots to learn.”

Scalise, who supervises 92 stores in his region, shows he has a handle on the Bay Plaza assortment and its nuances. As he moves into the outerwear section, he said customers opt for, or at least he expects them to opt for, “long down coats versus fleece, to make the wait for a bus in the winter more tolerable.” They’re taking city buses and subways to get to work, and generally not driving.

He said that half of the customer base is under age 40; half are casual or casual-work dressers, and 20 percent commute to Manhattan for work. That’s important because it means they’re going to seek out easy-to-carry accessories and comfort shoes as well as stretch, to help make for a more pleasant commute. The customer is also likely to want “signature products,” meaning those with obvious branding and big logos. Within the area’s diverse ethnic population, “We have more Latina customers,” Scalise observed, so brights, jewel tones, as well as grays and leopard prints, should be very available. “It’s a bet. I could be wrong. We will know in a week. Our job is to push it a step further, to test the hypothesis. More is not necessarily better. A tight productive store like this forces us to get that clarity.”

Over in jewelry, it’s about hoops, hoops and more hoop earrings “Our customer in city doors prefer metal,” metal hoop earrings that is, and there is a lineup of floor towers selling Giani Bernini, Charter Club and Touch of Silver in a variety of colors and silhouettes. There’s also a watch area that’s larger than usual and with plenty of bling.

In fragrance, Scalise points out “the big play with Paco Rabanne — we’ll overpenetrate.” In beauty, “there’s a great range in foundations, with more darker shades” for the ethnic population. “Here’s a key item — the Clarisonic,” an exfoliating scrubber.

In bottoms, “Here, there isn’t a big twill customer. They’re big on denim, stretch and comfort. If you were in Connecticut, you would probably see a lot more twill.”

Macy’s at Bay Plaza is also betting on dark-colored innerwear, which goes with the Latina complexion, as well leopard patterns, more full-figure sizes, and, as Scalise said, “shapewear to neutralize some of her concerns. Latinas tend to be shorter and bigger around the waist.”

Another of what’s termed “distortions” in the assortment is functional and fashion activewear, so, for example, Macy’s has ample offerings of long Nike basketball shorts and long pull-up socks and Adidas jogging jackets.

In the home area, “Cookware is very important for this customer, they celebrate their ethnicity through cooking,” Scalise noted. “We sell bigger stock pots, more frying pans, pressure cookers. Our city stores do more in blenders and juicers than coffeemakers.” For the bedroom, the comfort factor is key, with Memory Foam products representing another key item. The assortment highlights such labels as Charter Club, INC, Tommy Hilfiger and Martha Stewart — all Macy’s private brands and exclusives, while the more expensive Hotel in-house brand is not displayed.

Through the store, there are 164 items deemed “customer favorites’’ based on their selling record at other locations. They’re limited distribution or exclusive products to Macy’s. Among the items flagged as favorites: Tommy Hilfiger V-necks, priced $49.98, and Levi’s straight-leg jeans, priced $39.99. “Limited distribution and exclusives resonate with the customer,” Scalise said.

Macy’s has one other store in the Bronx, a 171,000-square foot unit in Parkchester to the south, and to the north is a 355,000-square-foot location in the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers. “There might be a little pinch from the other two stores, but there are 50,000 residents of Co-op City, right next door to the mall. This is Macy’s country. Macy’s is ingrained in the culture and fabric of the community.”

At the morning employee rally, Scalise is joined by vice president and store manager Gerard Guichard to address about half of the store’s 372 employees present for the first shift. Guichard gets up and brandishes “the survival guide” that the workers all get containing phone numbers for managers, loss prevention and different departments in the store to better service customers.

“Are you psyched?” Scalise calls out. “We couldn’t have done this without you. Normally it takes four weeks to put in the fixtures, the visuals, the signs, dress every mannequin — we did it in nine days — 40 trucks in four days. We have the A-team here. We are going to blow it away. You feel it. Talk to the customer. Find out what they like and what they don’t like. You are empowered to do whatever you want to do. Make new friends, but also make new clients.”

Then Scalise resumes the tour, saying, “It’s invigorating. My job is to get everyone excited, impart our goals and do lots of recognition. There is nothing more exciting than opening a new store. You have a brand new culture, the latest thinking, the best and the brightest,” with some staffers recruited from different Macy’s locations around the country.

“This store is close to Macy’s central headquarters,” on 34th Street in Manhattan, Scalise said. “It will be watched closely.”