Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — It’s not just your garden variety Lazarus store opening in Easton, Ohio, on Thursday. Executives from Federated Department Stores call it “the store of the future” and it strives to make up for failures of the past.
Seeking to take the drudgery out of shopping and make America’s number-one pastime faster, more fun and convenient, the two-level, 240,000-square-foot Lazarus unit in the Easton Town Center brings together under one roof several new merchandise concepts that have been tested recently — and successfully — at a handful of store units operated by Federated divisions around the country, including Macy’s, Rich’s and Bloomingdale’s.
The Lazarus store also launches new technologies and services never before tried by Federated, and in particular, strives to attract younger customers, where department stores have lost major market share. Prominently featured is Federated’s new junior strategy, called Gen-now, designed to serve this younger market. There’s a generation of shoppers loyal to such chains as Abercrombie & Fitch, Wet Seal and The Buckle, forgoing the Federated’s and May Cos. of the world.
Among other new elements at the Lazarus unit are a customer care center with such amenities as a day spa and children’s play area, plus lots of online services.
Department stores have long been criticized for being too difficult to shop and lacking innovation on many fronts, though Federated isn’t the worst offender. It’s been ahead of the pack in private label development for merchandise exclusivity, and coming up with more specialized store formats, including home stores for Bloomingdale’s and apparel and accessories-only Macy’s stores in a few locations. May Co. has more recently stepped up private label development trying to catch up to Federated, and has returned to specialty retailing, with the acquisition of David’s Bridal in 2000. May Co. is also seeking to buy Brooks Bros.
Since 1998, Terry Lundgren, Federated’s president and chief merchandising officer, has been leading the corporate charge to change department stores, or, as he said back then, to “reinvent” the department store.
Apparently, it wasn’t just talk.
On Friday, he finally lifted the cone of silence on Federated’s “store of the future” and disclosed to WWD details of the long-awaited project.
“Many of the ideas and concepts embedded in the Easton store have been implemented over the course of the last 18 months in various Federated stores. Juniors, kids, and young men’s are a few examples,” Lundgren said. “We’ve made a major effort at going after young consumers. We’ve been quite successful in that area.
“But there are many more aspects to this store that have not been tested. They are new. Some will work and will be part of our future store designs. Some might not cost-justify the investment. Nonetheless, it is a different shopping experience, versus a typical Federated or other department store.”
After the store gets some sales and traffic readings, the Federated group will fine-tune its new concepts, roll them out if consumers take to them, or discard them if they don’t produce sufficient return on investment.
“Our focus is on making our store more convenient and exciting to our customers and we are very attuned to their changing needs,” added Ron Klein, Lazarus chairman and chief executive, in a statement. “Lazarus at Easton Town Center showcases unique concepts that will challenge the status quo in terms of merchandising, services and store layout. This is a laboratory for Lazarus to test many ideas.”
Federated’s new Gen-now format combines juniors with young men’s merchandise in an energetic area with video games, snacks, a photo booth to show your friends your latest outfit or what you might buy, and a cyber cafe. It’s been successfully tested at some divisions for a few seasons.
The store also features an even newer experiment in kids, recently launched at a Macy’s in Bridgewater, N.J., as well as open-sell cosmetics, which is finding success in various divisions of Federated, including Bloomingdale’s.
Additionally, Lazarus features a 40,000-square-foot furniture showroom, grouping furniture by lifestyle, offering interior design studio services, and “virtual upholsterer” kiosks to view how sofas look with different fabrics.
There is also a customer care and service complex that includes:
The “Playaway” supervised kids’ play area, so parents can shop undisturbed.
An Ecotage salon and day spa, for massages, manicures and facials.
A mammography center associated with the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, which is part of the Ohio State University Medical Center.
Gift wrapping and package shipping centers.
A lounge.
Among the new technologies and service features:
Price check stations enabling customers to scan a bar code and get the latest price on items.
Online applications for Lazarus jobs.
Shopping carts in the home store and different ones in the children’s department that have a child’s seat.
A full demo-kitchen that can be closed or opened up for chef demonstrations.
Techno-friendly lounges adjacent to fitting rooms, with telephones for free local calls, Internet access, TV and couches.
Twenty-one 42-inch plasma screens near checkout areas, with closed circuit programming showing on a split-screen format in-store events and promotions, such as private label ads, community events, fashion events, national and local news, stock market and weather updates and sports reports. The technology was developed by Cox Interactive Media and Federated.
There is also a Starbucks, personal shopping in the women’s sections, and for the first time, personal shopping in men’s wear too.
“Some of these special concepts we have tested elsewhere and the customer has responded to them, and we are also trying some new tricks,” said Ellen Fruchtman, divisional vice president for public relations, for Rich’s/Lazarus/Goldsmith’s division, which is based in Atlanta.
While Federated will watch closely the progress of Lazarus in Easton, Lazarus officials will also be devoting their energies to other locations, making for a very busy few weeks ahead. In addition to the Easton opening, more traditional units are opening in Stone Crest in the Atlanta area on Oct. 18, and in the Polaris mall in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 25.