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CHICAGO — Marshall Field’s is reinventing its wheel.

Launching a three-month renovation of its 150-year-old State Street flagship here, Marshall Field’s is attempting to remake not only its 10 floors of shopping space, but also its overall retail experience, including an expanded and aggressive vendor leasing program.

This story first appeared in the June 30, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Forming partnerships with about 500 brands, including Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Thomas Pink, Yahoo, cosmetics and Olsen Europe, Ralph Hughes, regional director, said Field’s wants to sprinkle surprises on each floor, offering goods and services that shoppers might not expect to find in one department store.

Many of those surprises are the result of the leasing program, under which executives plan to lease about 10 percent of State Street’s 800,000 square feet of selling space by mid-September, when the bulk of renovations should be completed.

“Today, department stores are struggling to differentiate themselves,” Hughes said. “If you take the name off outside and walk in, you could be anywhere.

“We see this [reinvention] as crystallizing our brand,” he added. “Differentiation is key. We’ll have what you expect from Marshall Field’s heavily peppered with things you don’t expect.”

Marshall Field’s had annual revenues of $2.7 billion in 2002, generated from more than 14 million square feet of retail space. Field’s operates 62 stores in eight states. Chainwide, sales per square foot come out to around $193. At 800,000 square feet, State Street is one of the largest department stores in the world.

Executives declined to put a dollar figure on the cost of the renovation project, which was unveiled with great fanfare last week. A spokeswoman also said the renovation will add “modestly” to the selling space in the store, but precisely how much is still in flux.

Field’s began leasing space last year to Mimi Maternity on its fourth floor, Creative Kidstuff on the fifth and Thomas Pink on its first floor in November. The concept proved to be successful for the merchant as well as the makers. Thomas Pink, for example, plans to lease additional space for women’s wear this fall. Todd Jaeger, project manager for new business development, said the leasing idea is not groundbreaking for Field’s, since the store has leased space in the past. However, the amount and type of leasing is. “The model is probably more of a European model,” Jaeger said, “especially in the U.K., where it’s more prevalent. They’ve got it down to a science.”

Field’s has both solicited leases and received requests.

“It’s been more of a two-way street,” Jaeger said. “Vendors have asked to become our partners. People recognize the strength of both brands.”

Meanwhile, the corporation will keep a close watch on the program’s progress.

“Our goal is to start with State Street and use it as our lab,” Jaeger said. “We may use this concept in some of our bigger stores, and maybe into all our doors.”

“It’s been very positive,” said a company spokeswoman about the process of creating in-store shops. “Once we started going, the ‘aha’ moment hit and we realized this is the direction we need to go in — and at lightning speed.”

Hughes concurred. “This is a good laboratory for the corporation. This is truly a reinvention of our department store business. We’re doing things that other people would find roadblocks and barriers to.”

Besides leasing space to vendors, Field’s is increasing its offering of several brands, providing the feeling of mini-boutiques throughout the store. For example, Field’s moved its hosiery from its highly trafficked first floor to the fifth, near intimate apparel, to make room for an Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche accessories boutique and sections for Bottega Veneta and Kate Spade handbags.

Regarding women’s apparel, Field’s plans to expand and remodel its St. John collection on the third floor and lease space to Olsen Europe, a European sportswear brand. The space will represent Olsen’s first American boutique.

Additionally, Field’s will present an array of new lines, including Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, Fenn Wright & Manson and Miss Sixty, the spokeswoman said. It’s also expanding its collection of French Connection.

Each floor is receiving upgraded lighting to brighten the store and its contents. In some areas, the light level will be doubled.

“We’re increasing the ambient light to create a good feeling. It makes you want to stay longer,” said Jaeger. “For me, as a consumer, then I can see the difference between navy and black.”

Field’s also is upgrading its sound system to one that can monitor the level of traffic in the store. When more people are shopping and sound levels rise, the music volume will decrease and then conversely increase when traffic is lighter. Music selections will vary by area, based on the targeted demographic.

From a service standpoint, the retailer has introduced Field’s Express, a team of salespeople armed with radios and headsets who can obtain items from various floors for hurried shoppers. The company also plans to begin free package delivery within a five-mile radius.

On its lower level, Field’s is leasing space to Wrigleyville Sports to sell professional-quality apparel for Chicago teams, as well as others with national followings, aptly located by a new “InField’s” sports-theme restaurant.

Sections also are in the works for Sean Conway Gardens; Whittard of Chelsea teas; Australian Homemade, a premium ice cream and chocolate maker; Papyrus/Marcel Schurman paper products, and local favorites The Down Town Dog, featuring high-end pet apparel, and accessories like leather jackets and crystal-studded collars, and Barbara’s Bookstore.

“There are books about every subject and Barbara’s can accessorize areas like ready-to-wear with [related] books,” Jaeger commented.

The candy department, meanwhile, will receive a facelift with wider aisles and brighter space.

On the first floor, Field’s already orchestrated some of its reinvention with its YSL accessories boutique and its remodeled and expanded cosmetics department, which features such lines as Qiora, Nars and Smashbox, and this fall, Fresh.

Additionally, women will be able to get quick nail treatments at a new beauty bar, and men can receive facial treatments in a planned spa area. cosmetics also will create its first physical presence at Field’s. The company creates custom cosmetics, hair care products and fragrances, as well as personalized packaging.

As part of the renovation, Levenger, an upscale reading and desk accessories company based in Delray Beach, Fla., will lease space near Thomas Pink of similar size.

“You won’t find [Levenger] in any department store, and their demographics in Chicago are fantastic,” Jaeger said.

Levenger, a catalog retailer, calls Chicago one of its top three markets. The Field’s boutique will represent its first shop outside of its Delray Beach headquarters, where it has a store.

Workers are in the process of creating a men’s fragrance, leathers and accessories area on the first level adjacent to the Pink and Levenger spaces, with brighter lights and lighter walls and wood cabinetry.

Yahoo also will launch its first physical presence on the first floor with an area to test-drive new Yahoo technology such as Internet cameras.

To better consolidate men’s apparel, which had been split between the first and second levels, virtually all men’s clothing, except Pink, will be on the second level.

“We’re introducing newness in every department,” the spokeswoman said.

That includes an expanded Armani collection in men’s along with new vendors Burberry, Ike Behar and Ted Baker.

Field’s is going deeper in men’s active sportswear with more Nike apparel and shoes, and more activewear from Swiss Army and sportswear from Oakley.

“We’ll also be adding fun plasma TV screens and the music will complement the vibe and feel we’ll be exuding in that area,” the spokeswoman said.

On floors two through five, display areas on the State Street side of the store, where the escalators take shoppers from floor to floor, will be designated “hot zones,” showcasing the newest looks.

“This is a way to reinstate our bragging rights as a fashion leader,” the spokeswoman said.

In intimate apparel, Field’s plans to expand its offering of Wacoal into a dominant collection. “We’ll carry every sku Wacoal makes,” she said.

Shoppers to upper levels also will encounter Designers Guild, London-based Tricia Guild’s first interior design shop in a U.S. department store, along with Traditions Made Modern, a home decor collection rooted in Southwest history, among other new vendors.

Field’s also plans to transform its Wedgewood Room into a culinary council where local chefs like Charlie Trotter or Rick Bayless will provide cooking demonstrations broadcast through the store.

The retailer will devote more than 20,000 square feet to its oriental rug gallery, which will make it one of the largest rug collections in the country, Hughes said.

Despite the fact that many chains have struggled since Sept. 11, 2001, Hughes said the extensive renovation to the State Street store was not a difficult sell.

“An advantage of being part of the Target Corp. is that they have a good understanding of the legacy and tradition of Marshall Field’s and they’re committed to preserving it,” he said. “It wasn’t hard to sell the corporation on this.”

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