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Bloomingdale's Philly-area plans

Chain seeks store sites while investing online

Even as owner Macy's Inc, is investing in speeding up Bloomingdale's online direct-to-customer delivery, Bloomingdale's local agent, MSCretail, has been advertising for a 120,000 sf - 150,000 sf "significant presence" street-level space with "upscale retail co-tenancy" in "Center City Philadelphia," and for a string of 15,000-25,000-sf spaces at "lifestyle centers, outlet centers, downtown/urban envirnonments, and regional enclosed malls" -- but only at sites with that same "upscale and fast fashion co-tenancy" -- in eastern Pa., South Jersey, Delaware.

You'd expect the reborn Gallery, the rival East Market mixed-use project, and the various nearby Bart Blatstein proposals along North and South Broad St., would love to get a Bloomie's, if only they could convince the store it won't be lonely (for high-end shoppers or "co-tenants") if it makes the move.

More clearly, both the downtown retail sites and the suburban malls owned by Gallery co-owner PREIT; by Simon Properties (King of Prussia, Philadelphia Mills, Philadelphia Premium); by General Growth Properties (Christiana Mall), and others, would be glad to welcome Bloomingdale's Outlets.

But is it really Bloomingdale's way, in this digital-shopping age, to add so many locations in a slow-grow market like Philadelphia, all at once? (Macy's and Bloomingdale's shut a net 5 stores in 2013, droping the count to 840.)

Maybe: The chain already has stores at King of Prussia (Simon) and Willow Grove (PREIT), but nothing in the city or South Jersey or the Main Line proper. And there's no Bloomingdale's Outlet closer than Paramus in North Jersey.

As to clustering department-stores and outlets, stores, and whether they cannibalize one another: Here's what Macy's CFO Karen M. Houget said about Bloomingdale's department stores and Outlets in her company's Feb. 24 investor conference call:

"Initially we were nervous about putting on of the Bloomingdale's Outlet too close to a Bloomingdale's store. And what we found, is, it served as an entry point for the customer. And instead of taking business away from the base Bloomingdale's store, we actually brought new customers, who learned and got comfortable with Bloomingdale's from the Outlet experience," and became new customers for the nearest larger Bloomingdale's department store.

It worked well enough that the company now wants to also cluster Macy's-brand outlets with Macy's department stores, too.

The analysts wanted to know: With Macy's/Bloomingdale's raising investor eyebrows by spending $100 million a month on capital improvements, can the chain afford to keep building both new stores and better online/warehouse/app networks?

"There is going to be ongoing investments in technology forever. The technology spend will not go down at least as far out as we can see. And obviously we're continuing to maintain and add new stores where we can," Houget replied.