Byline: Kim-Van Dang

LAS VEGAS — Robert Redford learned in “Indecent Proposal” that you can’t buy love — not even in Las Vegas. You can buy just about any category of apparel, though, in casino-hotel shops here. Casino-hotel retailing is big business.
And it’s no surprise that some of the hottest shops in town also happen to be at the hottest casino-hotels here: sister operations The Mirage and Treasure Island at The Mirage.
Frank Visconti, senior vice president of retail operations for Mirage Resorts Inc., the parent company, said it’s the fastest action he has seen in his 25-year retail career. Visconti previously held senior management positions with two venerable outfits: Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
“It’s the highest productivity per square foot I have ever seen,” he said.
While the Forum Shops at Caesars claims to do three times the $300-per-square-foot national average, Visconti said that the shops in The Mirage do twice what the Forum Shops do per square foot. Moreover, he added, 50 percent of the resort’s business is in logo apparel. According to industry sources, one Mirage T-shirt shop alone — the one directly across from the White Tigers attraction — grosses about $6 million a year. Mirage officials would not quote figures.
During feeding time for the tigers, throngs of tourists usually spill into the gift shop. Some even hoist themselves up on table displays in order to get a better view of the rare beasts. In all, about 25,000 people traipse through the resort on a daily basis. Many end up leaving with a souvenir purchase.
“When people have a positive experience,” Visconti said, “They want to leave with something to remember it by.”
These “somethings” are not cheap.”Our T-shirts are $28,” said Visconti, holding one up. “They are embroidered with our logos. They are 100 percent combed cotton. They come in fashion colors. Our design team updates the merchandise seasonally. You can buy a $4.99 T-shirt across the street, but that’s not us.”
Logo apparel is only half the picture. The resort also boasts what it calls the Street of Shops — one large designer store subdivided into six small boutiques featuring swimwear, eveningwear, designer sportswear, better sportswear, shoes and Moschino products. Armani, Mugler, Oldham, Lars, Kamali, Ozbek, Montana, Ferragamo — they all hang here.
Gottex swimwear is a big mover, Visconti said, and Judith Leiber handbags and Moschino apparel and accessories are two other top performers.
Those who consider The Mirage an anomaly have only to look next door.Taryl Tracy, Treasure Island director of stores, said that his shops do even more volume per square foot than those at The Mirage. He refused to divulge numbers, but did discuss his operation’s advantages at length. For one, Mirage Resorts is the only casino-hotel chain here that owns and operates all of its stores.
“We have built-in marketing,” he said. “Our logo stores are open 24 hours. Our other stores are open till midnight. Malls want to control their image, but they are obligated to rent out space. We’re not.
“Everyone before Steve Wynn (Mirage chairman and chief executive officer) thought it was too much aggravation to run their own stores,” he continued. “But Mr. Wynn has vision.”
The chairman insures that his vision is adhered to by keeping business in the family. His daughter, Kevin Q. Wynn, who made national headlines when she was kidnapped and held for ransom two years ago, heads up Mirage Resorts’ six-buyer team.
Another big player here, Todd Marshall, has set up shop in nearly every other hotel-casino in town. The 38-year-old president and ceo of Marshall Rousso — a contemporary sportswear store for men, women and children — operates leased units at Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, Desert Inn, Excalibur, Riviera, Sahara, Sands and Stardust. His newest store opened last August in a casino-hotel off Boulder Highway called Boulder Station. Marshall Rousso boutiques are also located in Fashion Show Mall next door to Caesars Forum Shops, on the 2900 and 3700 block of the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) and at McCarran Airport, where he has two units. Additionally, Marshall owns seven T-shirt stores sprinkled throughout the city; six go by the name Special T’s and one downtown is called Trader Bill’s.
Marshall Rousso stores recently started carrying men’s and children’s wear for the first time. Selection, quality and price points have also improved. Eight buyers now stock items ranging from $50 retail summer shorts sets to $2,000 leather jackets. Marshall said he sells to “Misses’ Average American, who looks to us for flash, sparkle — the pizzazz the city is synonymous with.
“We sell the look you want after a big win, or a big loss,” he continued. “We sell guilt gifts. There are no locations like casino-hotels for traffic. People there are in the mind-set to be entertained, and today, shopping is entertainment. These people are on a mission. They want to [buy something] and do it quickly. Watching them shop is like watching a feeding frenzy.”
As for volume, Marshall would only say that his company grosses “at least $20 million” a year, with some stores posting annual increases of about 10 percent. This year, he is renovating both Trader Bill’s and the Marshall Rousso boutique at Bally’s casino-hotel. In addition, he plans to launch a mail-order catalog by the holiday season and is working to produce a video to be aired on in-house television channels at major casino-hotels.