NEW YORK — Furniture showrooms are homing in on department store territory and creating big business for themselves and the malls they occupy.
In South Florida, where the new home construction rate is creating a boom for the home furnishings market, mall owners are outfitting vacant department stores for popular furniture retailers. With Federated Department Stores expected to shed at least 75 stores in the coming year as it begins converting May’s nameplates into Macy’s, prime real estate is up for grabs, and the furniture store trend is expected to catch on in other high-growth areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“The real estate in the mall is incredibly advantageous for us,” said Mary Turschmann, director of business development for Robb & Stucky, an upscale furniture retailer with showrooms in Florida, Texas and Arizona. “Our traffic is far exceeding what we ever thought it could be. There are thousands and thousands of people coming through the mall on a daily basis, so we see a ton of shoppers in our stores.”
The retailer this year opened a 120,000-square-foot store in a vacant Lord & Taylor at International Plaza in Tampa, Fla. Though Turschmann didn’t disclose how the mall store’s sales figures compared with those of a typical showroom, about 1,200 people are in the unit on a weekend day, more than six times the volume of shoppers in the average location. The shoppers at International Plaza are prepared to pay, too. The mall offers the usual crew of specialty retailers and features upscale Christian Dior, Coach, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, St. John and Tiffany stores. The anchors, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Dillard’s, fill out the other three corners of the mall.
The mix isn’t good only for the retailer. Taubman Co., the mall owner, believes that Robb & Stucky does triple the sales of Lord & Taylor, said David Weinert, senior vice president of leasing for the real estate investment trust.
“Home furnishings has always been a part of the merchandising of better shopping centers, like Pottery Barn or Williams-Sonoma,” Weinert said. “But full-scale furniture stores have never really made it into the malls. When we were looking at alternatives to Lord & Taylor, though, it occurred to us that people are living and reacting in lifestyle-oriented ways. People like different types of uses at regional shopping centers today, and bringing in Robb & Stucky solved the issue of sameness that occurred when we had Lord & Taylor in the mall.”
The Taubman Co. has led the charge on incorporating furniture retailers. At its Mall at Wellington Green, in West Palm Beach County, Fla., Taubman plans to open a 140,000-square-foot City Furniture store in November in another vacant Lord & Taylor space.
Robert Taubman, president and chief executive officer of the mall company, said during a conference call this year that he expected the Florida-based City Furniture would more than double the volume of the Lord & Taylor it is replacing.
“It’s a very popular, well-known retailer in the area,’’ said Larry Beermann, general manager of the Mall at Wellington Green. “They’ve got great pricing, their average ticket price will be much higher than Lord & Taylor and they will attract higher-end customers to the mall. They will generate a lot of the traffic at the center.”
Other furniture stores are making their presence felt in the area, which has added about 12,000 new homes since Wellington Green opened in 2001, Beermann said. Near the new City Furniture is Thomasville Furniture and Blackwelder’s Furniture; Norwalk Furniture is soon to be added to the market.
The decision to move into a mall hasn’t forced sacrifices on retailers, either. According to Beermann, the City Furniture store will look much like its stand-alone stores, with furniture setups of bedrooms and living rooms, while the mall concourse on the upper level will extend into the store to create the effect of small storefronts. Robb & Stucky’s store in International Plaza “has the basic core philosophy” of other Robb & Stucky stores, said Turschmann, though it’s the first time the owners have had to manage several entrances to their store.
“We try to design per our market, so we cater some of our merchandise to the younger customer that comes to the mall. But just by sheer square footage of our space, we can do more and put our best foot forward in all of our different lifestyles,” said Turschmann. “We certainly have our eyes open for more real estate opportunities like this.”
They should be coming. “After the success here, there’s no question that as we’re looking at new development now, we will look at furniture stores in our predevelopment strategy as anchors for malls,” said Weinert. “We’re considering this for all future developments.”