14270 Thu, 04/17/2008 - 2:28pm
NEW YORK–Bloomingdale’s is undergoing a psychic shift to think more like a fashion house.
The heightened push to deliver rarefied fare at a faster clip could result in an exclusive home partnership next year—a first for the department store, Joe Laneve, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of home, told HFN.
Bloomingdale’s, which has been in expansion mode, has spent the past two years testing fresh ways to showcase home in new stores, which includes nixing vendor shops. But these are tough times to perk up a home business, as the housing crisis and sluggish economy have hampered the category across retail, and Bloomingdale’s home store has not been immune to the slowdown.
“It’s been a tough start to the year,” Laneve said.
Bloomingdale’s imprimatur has long been that of a fashion-forward retailer, but “we’re accelerating” that effort, Laneve said.
“It’s important for Bloomingdale’s home furnishings to be on top of the newest fashion and newest trends, style, color and designers,” he said. “We want to be out there before anyone with new fashion and new trends in home furnishings. We’re making sure that as many buyers as possible can get involved in this. In the past, we paid attention to certain areas,” such as furniture and textiles.
Today that mandate goes for all home businesses, including areas such as housewares.
Each buyer has an equal responsibility and opportunity to go out and find things that are fashion-forward and newsworthy related to their areas, Laneve said. At the same time, the retailer is becoming increasingly merciless with slow sellers.
“We’re moving our slow-selling merchandise faster in many sundry ways,” Laneve said. “We have a high sense of awareness on the need to bring in newness. Everybody carries Waterford, All-Clad and Cuisinart. How does Bloomie’s separate ourselves?”
Laneve answers his own question. Bloomingdale’s keeps itself distinctive by pumping up its mix of “first at Bloomingdale’s” and “only at Bloomingdale’s” home merchandise. It also taps new resources, including tabletop from Monique Lhuillier—who has been called the next Vera Wang—and Serena & Lily textiles in chic, bold prints.
“A lot of designers are coming to us first for things,” Laneve said. “We see a lot of things in advance of other people.”
The retailer is also pushing so that the home business is moving in fashion synch with apparel.
That means home merchandising and marketing events are tied more closely to storewide campaigns that include ready-to-wear, menswear and accessories.
“We have this fashion customer and they want fashion in their home as well,” said Kevin Harter, Bloomingdale’s vice president of fashion direction for home and men’s. “There is an increasing synergy between what’s going on in fashion and what’s going on in home. The more we take advantage of that synergy, the better we are as a store.”
In the windows of Bloomingdale’s iconic Manhattan flagship on 59th Street, the retailer recently told a home/apparel fashion story dubbed Full Bloom.
“You see not only mannequins in designer floral dresses, but also tabletop with floral patterns,” Harter said. “We’re putting home in the window more and more each season.”
What Bloomingdale’s does not have is a signature home collection. That could soon change.
“We’re looking at creating some kind of partnership that is exclusive to Bloomingdale’s in a way that we haven’t seen before,” Laneve said. ”We’re trying to work on a big idea that differentiates us from the competition.”
The line will not necessarily be hitched to a design icon, like the Martha Stewart home collection at sister chain Macy’s, but it will seek to entice younger shoppers—a demographic it’s targeting for market-share growth, Laneve said. It could bow as early as next year.
Beyond merchandising, the retailer has also been unfurling a fresh blueprint for home in new stores in San Francisco; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and most recently, Chevy Chase, Md.
The most dramatic difference in these stores is the elimination of vendor shops, which breaks from department-store retailing tradition.
The Chevy Chase store features display beds from Ralph Lauren and Sferra, among others, lined up side by side, as opposed to in their own recessed shops.
The idea is to make the Bloomingdale’s brand the star attraction and allow for more flexibility so that merchandise can be contracted or expanded as needed.
The store also features an edited assortment with a boutiquelike feel appropriate for smaller stores.
Bloomingdale’s will bow its latest thinking in home design next year with a new store in Phoenix that reflects what worked and didn’t work in Chevy Chase.
Not being locked into vendor shops has been a boon, Laneve said. But the bold move away from classification merchandising—where goods are showcased by product category—to cross-merchandised lifestyle presentations akin to Crate & Barrel, “is not 100 percent the way to go,” he said.
By contrast, the store’s expanded gift area proved that “there’s a big opportunity for Bloomie’s in what we call home decor,” Laneve said.
Contemporary merchandise is another big opportunity in home, where it has grown across product categories.
“Our strategy is to continue to grow contemporary—which has been paying off for us—but not at the expense of traditional,” he said. — Barbara Thau