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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023


SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter The New York-based buyers from Bloomingdale’s have been spending a lot of time in California lately. Since opening to bell-ringing business about two years ago, sales at the chain’s four Southern California locations have been good, but not great, according to store executives. So as Bloomies’ third holiday season on the West Coast approaches, the store is working to fine tune its merchandise more closely to the preferences of Southern Californians. And that means learning more about local tastes. “What we’ve done in the last three to four months is increase our learning curve,” said Michael Gould, the department store’s president and chief executive. “As we’ve tweaked our assortments, business is getting stronger.” The chain’s 1996 opening in Southern California was marked by a number of successful, high-profile charity events that brought in huge numbers of shoppers and raised expectations that it would be an economic boon to other retailers in the malls where the stores are located. Since then, however, things have returned to business as usual. “We haven’t seen a significant change (in customer traffic),” said Ali Hashemian, president of California Orchards, which has a store in the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square mall. “We were surprised. We were expecting more.” Analysts point out that Bloomingdale’s has not remained in the top of every shopper’s mind. “They created an enormous stir when they first opened, but since then you have not continued to hear the level of excitement,” said Richard Giss, a partner in the trade retail services group of Deloitte & Touche LLP. “They’re a player, but they’re not blowing away the competition.” Gould said that part of the problem stems from the early results, which unrealistically raised expectations. “We opened up in a blaze of glory, and like everything else, it settled down to more normal levels,” he said. “What we’re experiencing now is some good business, some outstanding business in a number of areas. Overall, we’re on plan.” Still, he concedes that Bloomingdale’s has missed the mark with some of its selections, and the store has been working to change that. This holiday season, Southern California shoppers can expect to see different, lighter weight fabrics and a more colorful assortment of clothes. “You’ll see less black,” Gould said. “We are putting much more color in the assortments, and we’re seeing results.” Matching its assortments to local tastes is particularly important for Bloomingdale’s, analysts said. The store doesn’t always compete on price against rivals like Macy’s and Robinsons-May, both of which promote sale prices heavily in newspaper ads. That means Bloomingdale’s has to rely on its merchandise to succeed. “They’ve got to have merchandise that’s responsive to the California market,” said Giss. Even with the in-house expertise of a number of top store executives who have worked and lived in Southern California previously (Gould himself is a former Bullock’s executive), adapting to local tastes has not been easy. “When you’re buying for stores all over the country, I think it is a little more difficult,” Gould said. Bloomingdale’s has had to adapt not only to the differences between shoppers in New York and Southern California, but also to differences among Southern California shoppers. Tastes within the New York area do not vary much from Manhattan to Long Island, but that’s not the case in Southern California, where, Gould said, there can be significant swings in style from Sherman Oaks to the Beverly Center. “That’s the thing that surprised our organization, that stores relatively close to each other have distinct personalities,” Gould said. To better understand the needs of the individual stores, Bloomingdale’s buyers and merchandise managers have increased the time they spend in Southern California, not only at the stores here, but at the local merchandise markets as well. In July, the Fashion Square store hosted a Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association party that helped neighbors get acquainted with the operation, said Richard Close, president of the association. “What we found was, before the event, most people figured it was a high-prestige, New York store,” Close said. “The event made them feel it was more like their community store.” Partygoers spent some $42,000 on purchases during the dinner and dance event. That’s the kind of publicity Gould is betting on. “The key to our growth is not advertising in the media,” he said. “The key to our growth is word of mouth.” Instead of attracting customers with splashy ads announcing sales, the retailer plans to focus on its reputation for carrying exclusive merchandise and being the first with new fashions. “We’re never going to be known as the lowest price retailer,” Gould said. “What you’re going to see is more emphasis on is ‘Only at Bloomingdale’s and ‘First at Bloomingdale’s.” Gould said research shows that customers come to Bloomingdale’s almost exclusively because of its reputation for fashion. “No other store do they say that about,” he adds. To help get its fashionable message across, the store for the first time is going to be inserting its fall catalog into some local newspapers. “I think some of the changes will bode well,” Gould said.

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