Within the much-maligned department store sector, Bloomingdale’s defies the critics. The upscale chain ended the year on a strong note, with margins and sales results beating the competition, a better-than-expected holiday season and plans for further expansion.

On Christmas Eve, “we went home with big smiles on our faces,” said Bloomingdale’s longtime chairman and chief executive officer Michael Gould. “We feel good about the business and the quality of the business we ran. Last year in December, we were drastically reducing inventory to get ourselves in a better position for spring. This year, we had a very good flow of receipts all season long. We will continue to bring in newness unabated…to keep the momentum going.”

The store last spring was named Department Store of the Year at the Global Department Store Summit, a conference in London where 53 department store ceo’s voted for the best in the sector, based on enviable profile, innovative product and service strategies, differentiated positioning and strong financial performance.

Bloomingdale’s has been elevating its offering and decor, honing its niche as the only upscale, full-line department store in the country, selling fashion and home. It’s contemporary in image, fills a prize zone that’s less expensive than Neiman Marcus but above Macy’s and has been bolstered by an influx of prestigious brands such as Louis Vuitton and Space NK. Over the past few years, it has added a more sophisticated interior design scheme with its distinctive checkerboard Bways and signature black trim that unifies the stores.

The business has been lifted by a sweeping remake of the 59th Street flagship, capped last year by an overhaul of the main floor, enabling Bloomingdale’s to bring in several beauty brands not previously carried, including Bare Escentuals, Jo Malone, Shu Uemura, Sisley, Bumble and bumble and Giorgio Armani. 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.

Bloomingdale’s continues to be in expansion mode, with its first international unit, licensed to Al Tayer, set to open in Dubai Feb. 1. Bloomingdale’s also is headed to Santa Monica, Calif., with a smaller branch store modeled after its SoHo unit, and to Phoenix, its first location in Arizona. The company is eyeing Texas and the Pacific Northwest for possible future locations.

In addition, an outlet strategy is in the works. The 40-unit Bloomingdale’s currently operates just one furniture clearance store, but no outlets selling apparel.

Parent company Macy’s Inc. cited a strong performance at Bloomingdale’s in its December sales report, with gifts and designer brands being instrumental. The store’s broad array of merchandise has worked to its advantage.

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