NEW FLASH, FRESH CASH FUEL SALES EXPLOSION IN NEW YORK STORES
Byline: Mark Tosh With contributions from Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — Retailers here say November has been a hot month, but this time, they’re not talking about the weather.
They’re talking about business heating up in several categories over the last few weeks, sparked by an increase in tourism, confidence in the local economy and strong fashion looks, especially color and glamour.
A spate of store openings in the
past year, ranging from Barneys New York on Madison Avenue to Bradlees on Union Square, has given the New York retail scene a newness that seems to be jolting shoppers into action. Other openings on Madison Avenue in the past 12 months include Emanuel Ungaro, La Perla and Max Mara.
All this retail activity has brought more options to New York consumers, and elevated retail expectations as the Christmas season kicks off. Observers expect the momentum to carry through the holiday season, and some claim the Northeast — and New York — will outperform the rest of the country.
The sales surge covers several categories, but career sportswear, accessories, eveningwear and sweaters are the standouts, according to industry executives.
“Sales have definitely picked up, particularly in the past 10 days, for us,” Stephen Elkin, chairman and chief executive officer of Bergdorf Goodman, said toward the end of last week. “We’re certainly exceeding plan and last year’s results, and are getting very close to double-digit increases.”
At Bloomingdale’s, season-to-date sales are up 9.5 percent over last year’s and “keep getting stronger,” said Michael Gould, chairman and ceo. “Knock wood, business is absolutely outstanding in the city,” he said. “There seems to be more activity, but we’re putting more into our store, more merchandise, more housekeeping, and we’re better on key items in every department. It’s across the board.”
For Christmas, Bloomingdale’s is warily optimistic.
“The key is to avoid any storms,” Gould said.
“There’s a new energy in New York,” said Arie Kopelman, president of Chanel.
Chanel reported sales increases of “well in excess of 10 percent,” Kopelman said. “We’ve had significant double-digit growth all year. Our [November] business is just continuing that trend.”
Macy’s East had a good early November, said a spokeswoman, who added, “We think we’re well-positioned for the holiday season.”
Tourism plays a big part in boosting the city’s energy.
According to the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau, the number of visitors to the city has increased every month this year, compared with year-ago totals. The weak dollar, which has declined in value against many European currencies, as well as the Japanese yen, has helped spur tourist activity here.
The Visitors Bureau, in what it calls a “conservative” forecast, said 24.3 million tourists would visit New York in 1994, about 1 percent more than 1993’s 24.1 million total, filling the city’s coffers with $14.3 billion, compared with $14.1 billion last year.
At Bergdorf’s, Elkin said sales were up across the board, particularly at the men’s store. Decorative home merchandise and women’s items such as accessories, contemporary sportswear and career apparel also are showing improved sales.
At its flagship here, Saks Fifth Avenue also was seeing improved sales, but business had been good all year, said Philip Miller, chairman and ceo.
“Depending on the month, sales increases [in percentages] have been in the high teens to low 20s,” Miller said.
Miller said Saks was looking for an overall Christmas sales increase of 6 to 8 percent.
Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks, said the store’s eveningwear sales jumped 22 percent in November, while private label cashmere “has been sensational,” bridge sportswear showed double-digit sales growth and Searle coats were up 26 percent, “even with the warm weather we’re having.” Bravo attributed the spurt to appealing colors and fabrics, a refreshing change from the predominance of black last season.
“This whole feeling of getting dressed up again and glamour and elegant evenings has propelled the evening business, the jewelry business and the accessory business,” she added. At Bloomingdale’s, designer collections and bridge sportswear were up more than 10 percent for the year to date, and contemporary sportswear, especially career items, was running “way more than 20 percent” ahead of last year, said Frank Doroff, executive vice president.
A number of specialty stores are also riding the wave.
Barbara Weiser, executive vice president of Charivari, said sales increased 11 percent in October, and were up about 2 percent midway through November.
“I know I had a very strong October,” she said. “Some of it was because the people from Europe delivered so late.”
Sales at Ralph Lauren’s flagship on Madison Avenue and its Ralph Lauren Polo store had “strong double-digit increases the past two weeks,” a spokeswoman said last Friday.
Kopelman said he attributed the sales increase partly to increased confidence among consumers and retailers.
“People are feeling fairly bullish about the future,” Kopelman said.
A recent addition to the city retail scene is Bradlees, a mass chain that opened its first store here this month. Company executives’ projections are ambitious; they say it will do three times what a normal Bradlees store does and will hit about $45 million a year in sales.
Since its opening, traffic has been “tremendous,” according to a spokesman, with shoppers often shoulder to shoulder on the store’s escalators.
Nicole Miller had a hot sales month in November. Bud Konheim, president, said 371 shoppers visited the Madison Avenue boutique on one Saturday.
“We haven’t had that in a year and a half,” he said.
For the first two weeks of November, sales at Nicole Miller’s two Manhattan shops increased about 70 percent compared with the first two weeks of October, which, Konheim said, was much greater than the typical November sales increase.
“It wasn’t that business had gone to nothing,” he said, “but in the last week, we have gotten a rush of business.” Sales picked up, Konheim said, because “people have digested the last thrill they had from buying; the looks have changed enough that you have the crush back again.”
Another factor contributing to the upswing in sales, according to Ike Lagnado, publisher of the Tactical Retail Monitor, was the increase in the number of people working in the metropolitan area, and investment by new retailers coming into the city.
According to a recent New York State report on the city’s economy, more than 32,000 jobs were added in New York City in the first eight months of the year.
“Employment drives income, which drives retail sales,” Lagnado said. “It’s that simple. And the hemorrhage of employment that the city has incurred over the last several years has stopped, and we’ve had some employment gains.”
The decline in the value of the dollar, which makes prices in New York more attractive to international tourists, and the increase in visitors to the city have helped retail sales, Lagnado said.
The city’s good fortune is expected to continue through Christmas.
According to Kurt Salmon Associates’ holiday sales forecast, consumers in the Northeast will be among the biggest spenders this year. The average household expenditure for Christmas gifts in the Northeast is expected to be $1,050 in 1994, 16 percent more than last year, according to a KSA survey. Nationally, the average family is expected to spend 11 percent more on Christmas in 1994, KSA projects.
Not everyone is a believer, however.
Irwin Cohen, chairman of Deloitte & Touche’s Trade Retail and Distribution Services Group, said the upswing in sales in New York had been “spotty” and not all retailers were reporting strong sales increases.
“I think you’re seeing some signs of strength, but I’m not sure you can call it a trend,” he said, citing Bergdorf Goodman as performing particularly well.
Cohen said even though earnings for a number of retailers improved in the third quarter, sales were sluggish overall.