Bloomie’s Breathes New Life into Tired, Predictable Retail

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What’s in a nickname? Nearly everyone has one or knows someone who does. Some are a shorthand version of a longer name. Others are more descriptive, but whatever form they take, nicknames are affectionately used by close friends and family.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Some brands are christened with a nickname, like MickeyD’s, Tarjay and Chevy. These nicknames are considered the highest form of flattery in branding circles. A recent study in the Journal of Marketing found when people use a brand nickname, it implies the individual has a “real” relationship with the brand, i.e. “inferred brand attachment” in marketing-speak. When others hear the nickname used, they consider what’s said as reliably true, defined as “perceived information authenticity.”

[callout]Sometimes in business, you have to be disrupted to force yourself to that place of innovation. A little bit of discomfort helps to implement change.[/callout]

That is the thinking behind the opening of a new scaled-down, more personal-sized Bloomingdale’s store called Bloomie’s in Fairfax, VA.

“There is a certain intimacy that every retail brand is trying to create with their customer,” says Mortimer Singer, managing partner of the business development and investment firm Traub, founded by the late Marvin Traub who was CEO and president of Bloomingdale’s for 22 years. “But department stores and intimacy are somewhat incongruous these days, given their scale. A smaller-format footprint, like Bloomie’s, with its highly curated, lighter but still commercial-touch, can really work. By allowing the customers to name it, everyone can take ownership of the brand,” he adds.

Stepping Outside the Big Box

On one level, Bloomie’s will be a big departure for the company. On another level, it has Bloomingdale’s DNA all over it, enhanced and brought forward into what today’s customers expect when shopping.

“It’s been clear the customer is evolving, even more so since the pandemic. Bloomie’s has that Bloomingdale’s ‘wink’ of the unexpected. It takes a 149-year-old, iconic brand and brings it into the modern era,” explains Bloomingdale’s Charles Anderson, senior vice president and director of stores.

At 22,000 square-feet, it is about one-tenth the size of the typical 200,000 square foot Bloomingdale’s store. It is located in a new Mosaic District open-air mall, less than ten miles away from the full-sized Bloomingdale’s store in Tysons Corner Center and not that much farther from its Chevy Chase store.

By carefully editing the merchandise assortment for local shoppers, which it understands well from sales at its close by full-sized stores and through the website, Bloomie’s will offer the “best of Bloomingdale’s,” as Anderson describes it, but in an atmosphere that feels more personal and intimate.

It’s Bloomingdale’s at human-scale. “This concept of a small store is a very big deal for us,” he shares. “With our new baby Bloomie’s we recognize the need for department stores to evolve. With its edited assortment and extended services, it is for the customer who might find traditional department stores overwhelming. We wanted to add more humanity into it,” Anderson says.

All the usual suspects found in a full-sized store will be offered, including women’s and men’s apparel, beauty, jewelry, shoes, eyewear and accessories, with a nod to more contemporary categories such as activewear and sneakers. Bloomie’s is designed as an inviting space, with a calming color palette and big windows allowing street side pedestrians to see in and customers to see out. In this way it becomes a part of the neighborhood, not some cavernous temple of luxury which describes the typical upscale department store.

Service Central

Service will take center stage at Bloomie’s. Guests will be welcomed at Bloomie’s Front Desk, where customers can pick up online orders, make returns and access personalization, customization and alteration services.

The sales staff on the floor are trained stylists who can help customers put together a personalized look. And Bloomie’s is designed to be fully integrated into the broader product offerings at its full-sized stores. “We’ve developed tangible means to provide access to our full-line assortment. We are calling our 59th street flagship the ‘Window Shop’ where stylists can work with Bloomie’s customers to find what they want and get it expedited to them wherever it is in the system. It won’t just be a self-serve touch screen. We’ve designed humanity into it. And people in the neighborhood will see our Bloomie’s green and blue vans running regularly between our Tyson’s and Chevy Chase stores.” Those vans will also take the store to customers, offering in-home stylist appointments and making special deliveries.

Place to Experiment

Throughout our conversation, Anderson spoke of efficiency built into the Bloomie’s model, both from an operational and customer perspective. It’s something that is obviously lacking in a big department store where selection can be overwhelming, service staff thin on the ground and with so many departments and floors to navigate.

But more significantly, he says Bloomie’s is a site for experimentation on what the future department store should be. “We are implementing things in Bloomie’s that will better inform the total full-line strategy,” he shares. “We’ve studied best practices in department stores all over the world and frankly, some of the leaders in our full-line stores are envious of the ideas we have implemented in Bloomie’s. Looking forward, there is definitely going to be synergy and reciprocity across our existing business.”

While Bloomie’s was on the drawing board before the pandemic, the disruption caused by closing its stores for months put it on the fast track. “It required us to think differently in terms of everything we do, from resourcing our stores, to how we can build efficiency, service and quality into our organization. Bloomie’s benefited from that concentration of different thinking,” Anderson says and adds, “Sometimes in business, you have to be disrupted to force yourself to that place of innovation. A little bit of discomfort helps to implement change.”

Anderson would not go on record about where Bloomie’s will go next. But with 33 full-line stores in some of the most prestigious shopping areas across the country, Bloomie’s first location so close to two of those stores – Tyson’s Corner and Chevy Chase – provides a road map for expansion. “Bloomie’s has a contemporary bend that is consistent with our brand, but localized so it can show up differently in different markets should we have further expansion,” he says.

Autonomy Assured

Bloomingdale’s is the prestige brand in the much larger Macy’s family of stores. The parent company has tried various alternative formats in the past – Market at Macy’s and Story by Macy’s – but neither has lived up to its initial promise.

With that track record, I wondered if the captain of the big-ship Macy’s, Jeffrey Gennette and crew, would give Bloomingdale’s CEO Tony Spring, Anderson and team autonomy to do things differently at Bloomingdale’s.

“Yes,” is Anderson’s unequivocal answer. “Macy’s leadership has great confidence in Tony at the helm of Bloomingdale’s. The two brands – Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s – are very distinct but with a shared mission and vision. There is tremendous synergy between our brands, but we always want to keep ourselves open to the best ideas that can be applied to both. Bloomie’s is a concept that will feel uniquely Bloomingdale’s and we will always try to bring a bit of that heritage to any of our new store locations.”

149-Years Young

The first Bloomingdale’s store opened in 1872 then moved to its 59th Street at Lexington Avenue location in 1886. It expanded further to take up the entire block by the 1920s. Bloomingdale’s didn’t make it from the 19th to the 21st century by resting on its laurels or not changing with the times.

Bloomie’s is likely to be the next iteration for forward thinking that will carry Bloomingdale’s into another century.” Bloomie’s underscores the staying power of our brand and the confidence our customer has in us and the deep nature of our relationships. It underscores our rich heritage and bright future,” Anderson concludes.

Since its founding, Bloomingdale’s has given customers a theatrical store experience. Whereas the 59th Street flagship store is like a big Broadway theatre production, Bloomie’s is an intimate theater-in-the-round experience. Bloomie’s stores will be venues where new theatrical retail productions can get a test run and the best ones will move onto having its own “Broadway” scale run on 59th Street and beyond.

“How many more department stores can there actually be in this country?” asks Traub’s Singer. “We’ve already got too many. But think about the potential of putting a smaller Bloomie’s location in very high traffic areas and in the super 100 zip codes.” “Bloomie’s would act not just as a retail store, but a huge billboard. If executed right, they can have multitudes of these stores across the country and maybe even the world,” Singer concludes.

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