Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Neiman's Bringing Sham Outlet to Atlantic Station?

Last fall Neiman Marcus launched "Last Call Studio," not to be confused with their "Last Call" chain of outlet stores, with a local location at Discover Mills in Duluth. Last Call Studio sells all full price items, none of which have ever passed through a full-line Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman store. Unlike Last Call, which for all intents and purposes is a way to get rid of seasonal merchandise passed down from the full line stores, Studio will carry lines including VINCE and 7 For All Mankind. The store will not carry couture lines such as Marc Jacobs, Gucci or Lanvin.

In Atlantic Station, Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio will occupy space where City Sports and Fox Sports Grill are. Fox Sports Grill has had issues in the past and its closure would surely be welcome news for upcoming eatery Yardhouse.  (An unconfirmed report indicates North American Properties has asked Fox Sports to break their lease and leave voluntarily but they are thus far not complying)    City Sports never fit in, if you asked me, and I doubt it will be missed. They do well in their home base of Boston and other northern cities, but the Atlantic Station store was their only foray into the south. While overall not a fan of Atlantic Station at all, there is no debating the success and draw of the Regal Cinemas 16 theaters. A former employee of the Hollywood 24 in Chamblee, I can tell you that the Atlantic Station theater has taken a good chunk of moviegoers who would previously have gone to Hollywood 24. Being the largest theater in the midtown area, with Georgia Tech and Georgia State so closeby, along with plenty of well-to-do south Buckhead and midtown residents, Regal's pull is surely what made the location appealing to Neiman's. For those unfamiliar, the theater is at the rear of the center on 19th Street, and the would be Neiman's is directly to the right.

Clearly if this opening does occur, it goes against North American Properties' managing partner's Mark Toro's pledge to lure local retailers to the troubled center.  Toro, and newly hired leasing manager Dotan Zuckerman have managed to add local boutiques DrewLewis and Fab'rik but I'd bet they are both receiving  heavily reduced leases. Early tenants, independent boutiques Knitch and Taste both closed in the center.   Bill Hallman had a short-lived boutique in the center over a year ago. Now women's-only boutique K-la remains open. 

Having worked in both a local boutique here in Atlanta also an upscale department store, I can tell you that Neiman's will have a clear advantage whenever they open.  Given the size of their operation, both in Atlanta and nationally, they are able to get far better pricing and concessions from vendors and as a result can afford to offer sales and promotions smaller boutiques like DrewLewis and Fab'rik will be unable to match or compete with.

I've long been a fan of stores like Marshall's and T.J. Maxx where consumers like myself can purchase quality merchandise, that may be last season or an overbuy, at a reduced price.  Conversely, I'm not a fan of outlets claiming to be the "last stop for full line merchandise" when in most cases, a significant portion of an outlet's merchandise is either made (in a more economical fashion) specifically for the outlet or has lower quality items sourced to stock the store year round.  Gap and Banana Republic are both guilty of stocking their outlet stores with merchandise made cheaper, to sell cheaper, at their outlets.  The consumer is often duped into thinking they are saving money when in fact they are paying a reduced price for reduced quality merchandise; no deal. Sort of a hybrid, Nordstrom Rack does carry plenty of merchandise passed down to it from its full line stores but also stocks other merchandise purchased specifically for the outlet.

Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio falls into neither of these categories but still brands itself in a way that it could be confusing to consumers.

Launched in an attempt to reach consumers without the funds necessary to shop the full-line store, the "studio" locations seem very similar to another Neiman Marcus division, CUSP. Launched in the fall of 2006, CUSP targets existing young shoppers and those who may have previously eluded the full line stores. I see it as an expensive proposition to market and operate two very similar concept stores, so perhaps Neiman's will come to their senses and combine them in the future.

I visited a Last Call Studio store in Paramus, New Jersey, one of three open to date. In the same center there is a Nordstrom Rack, Bloomingdale's Outlet, Saks Off Fifth and a Marshall's. I also visited a CUSP store in Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Virginia. CUSP, has six stand alone locations and an additional three within existing Neiman Marcus stores such as the one in Atlanta, within the Neiman's store at Lenox Square. An article in the New York Times last year called the new stores "Bargain Outlets," although neither word applies. The stores are simply smaller versions of their larger counterpart with an emphasis on merchandise costing less than $500. One clear difference is that CUSP is women's only, whereas Last Call Studio stores carry men's and women's apparel and some home furnishings as well.

Interestingly, about a year ago, Neiman Marcus tweaked their branding of the Last Call stores, switching from their signature stylized Neiman Marcus logo, below a tilted box that read Last Call Clearance Center, to a far more simple design. Now, bags and interior signage reflect a more generic approach where the logo now is "Last Call" (in two colors) with Neiman Marcus printed below.

Locally, there is a single Neiman-Marcus full line store at Lenox Square, and one Last Call outlet in Duluth at Discover Mills. Fellow luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue has a full line store at Phipps Plaza in Buckhead and Off Fifth outlet stores at Discover Mills and North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville. Slightly less expensive than Neiman's or Saks, Bloomingdale's operates full line stores at Lenox Square and Perimeter Mall. The chain launched Bloomingdale's The Outlet Store last summer, and expanded from an initial three stores to seven, although none are in Georgia. Similar in price to Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom operates full line stores at Phipps Plaza in Buckhead, Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody and Mall of Georgia in Buford. Nordstrom also operates two of their Nordstrom Rack outlet stores in the area. One is located a stone's throw from the full line Mall of Georgia store in nearby Mall of Georgia Crossing, and the other is in the Buckhead Loop, not far from the Phipps Plaza location.

Even real Last Call clearance centers are getting less "real merchandise" as Last Call now has it's own eBay store and is often featured on the homepage. Clearly, Neiman's is hoping to garner more for its clearance merchandise by offering it to the world via eBay rather than just in individual stores.

Last Call Studio, like CUSP, has been said to be a competitor not only of other outlets like Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off Fifth and stores like T.J. Maxx, but also full price retailers like Anthropologie. Anthropologie, a division of Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters, has three locations in Atlanta. Their newest location opened in the Westside Urban Market on Howell Mill Road earlier this year and is about a mile and a half from Atlantic Station. Anthropoligie's other locations are within Lenox Square in Buckhead and Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, each also home to Urban Outfitters as well. Personally, I think the Studio store will be a closer competitor to Anthropolgie than to T.J. Maxx but for what it's worth, there is an existing T.J. Maxx in the District at Howell Mill and there is another store opening with Midtown Place on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Your turn.  What do you think is wrong, right or just "ehh" about Atlantic Station?  What could Toro and his crew do to make you want to do more than see a movie?  Do you think the idea of a faux outlet store is a good idea?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below.  

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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

why is Atlantic station in the news lately, can we just bulldoze it already, and redo the mother eff...
keep the target please

Anonymous said...

JD?

Anonymous said...

JD?

Anonymous said...

THE ONLY WAY TO IMPROVE ATLANTIC STATION IS TO BURN IT DOWN

Anonymous said...

What issues has Fox Sports Grill had? Seems its near or at capacity every time I've try to go there.

Anonymous said...

The new owners have made a lot of progress in turning this place around in a short amount of time. I don't know why everyone gets so hysterical about AS with their nasty comments. Maybe it won't ever be the best project ever, but it certainly can be a nice place that fills a niche for intown residents. The original developers were way off with a lot of things, but the new guys are fixing things quickly. I had stopped going to AS, but I have been there three times in the past couple of months.

Anonymous said...

My husband works there at a premier law firm in the Wachovia building. We both shop there, eat there, go to movies there. I have found it to be a great place to be. Of course there are problems. It's the economy, stupid, but spaces keep getting filled, and an interesting cross section of our city patronizes it. It is great to have intown mixed use space, instead of the industrial waste nightmare that was there. Go there more often you wouldn't complain.It's not Virginia Highlands. Live with it.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know why everyone gets so hysterical about AS with their nasty comments. "

As far as I can figure its for two reasons really:

First, many were shocked to learn that there are black people in Atlanta when it opened and Second, its not a strip mall or suburban mall which is all Atlantans know.

I don't for a minute pretend that the place is perfect but you get NONE of the same silly criticism for other suburban projects that normally get built even intown.

Anonymous said...

Atlantic Station will always be a reflection of us residents that live there. They think they can change it into a Virginia Highlands or whatever that is. Wrong! It will always be a young upwardly mobile African American demographic. And you need to embrace that not go against it. Forcing out retailers and restaurants who cater to us and putting back others will not bring in new customers. They will stay in Buckhead! Adding tennis matches and doing social media will not change it! This is a live, work, play development. That is how it was designed, marketed and built. So you want to transplant something else. Guess what it won't work. that is unless you tear everything down and start over. The people who live here in the apartments behind you are your customers and they always will be. PS Atlantic Station is NOT Midtown. It's the Westside...

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for this new store to open! So excited!!!!!!!