Henry Aguirre, vice president and store manager of Macy’s Inc.’s downtown Los Angeles store, watched as a customer last month walked into the new home department and scooped up a $1,300 espresso machine.
It was a transaction that never would have happened a few years ago. First, because the store didn’t carry much beyond basic coffeemakers and other inexpensive appliances, but also because the old base of customers wouldn’t have bit on such an item. This customer had just moved to downtown from Hollywood to a residence just two blocks up from Macy’s.
The department store, which celebrates its 266,000-square-foot downtown flagship Saturday, has undergone a major redo of the store as part of developer Ratkovich Co.’s buildout of The Bloc mixed-use project, which includes retail, restaurants, hotel and office.
“I wouldn’t even call it a remodel,” said Michael Ellmann, district vice president at Macy’s Inc. “We basically started from scratch.”
That’s given way to a store transformation inside that very much mirrors what’s happening outside as downtown undergoes its own renaissance of new high-rise condominiums, trendy eateries that have established a nightlight and fashion-forward brands such as Acne Studios and A.P.C. planting flags.
“It’s one of those rare occasions,” Ellmann said of what’s taking place in downtown and at the store. “This remodel is more than just paint and tile. It’s been a lot of work.”
The company added about 22,000 square feet to make way for expanded women’s apparel and shoe departments along with cosmetics. Total selling floor space is about 170,000 square feet.
The store played up what Aguirre called “powerhouse” brands, such as Michael Kors and Coach, with their own breakout departments. The design of Coach’s area is the first of its kind in Macy’s and mimics the design of the store on Rodeo Drive.
“In the process of the upgrade and the remodel we’ve taken big brands that we know are right for our customers and we’ve made bigger footprints, shop installations and elevated assortments that we think can capitalize on the market here in downtown L.A.,” Aguirre said.
The cosmetics department alone added Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier, MAC Cosmetics, Benefit and the Impulse Beauty Shop catering to Millennials. Women’s ready-to-wear has seen the addition of brands such as Vince Camuto and Anne Klein, growing by roughly one-third. The assortment in women’s shoes has tripled.
Aguirre pointed to the population in downtown, which has doubled in the past eight years, and will continue to grow as construction on residential towers reaches completion. What’s already been brought to market in the way of apartments and lofts has helped usher in a new set of young professionals and others who might not have considered living in the area five years ago.
New residents with higher disposable incomes were one part of the equation in considering the store’s merchandising, but there were other shopper groups to take into account, Aguirre and Ellmann pointed out.
More than half of the customers who shopped the store used to be men, which explains why men’s is located on level one. But the opportunity is now much greater with the female demographic when one factors in who is now visiting and working in the area, Aguirre pointed out.
“We have to react to that,” Ellmann said.
Tourists, largely from Australia, China and the U.K., who have always been steady drivers of sales at the store, want American brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. There’s also the contingent of workers in downtown that may shop Macy’s on lunch breaks or after work.
“We’ve got all these different dynamics in downtown,” Aguirre said. “What’s happening here is we think of it as the whole transformation of downtown Los Angeles and with The Bloc, we’re right in the middle of the whole transformation so this will become a destination place.”
To solidify that game plan, the store is in talks with restaurants to bring a food concept to the second floor in May. Ellmann said the company is seeking a Southern California concept, with up to as much as 3,500 square feet — including a patio — dedicated to the restaurant.
In July, a high-end movie theater, serving dinner, will join the furniture department opening next month on the third floor.
The aggregate of changes was not possible several years ago. Furniture, when it arrives, will be the first time it’s available at the location in 26 years. The store used to close at 7 p.m. It now closes at 9 p.m. and executives are mulling extending the hours to 10 p.m. and possibly opening early to accommodate tourists.
It’s a flagship for the department store chain that’s now become important for its wide-ranging draw, which, as Ellmann described: “This store is kind of a microcosm of everything.”