Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Luxury On The Rise In Seattle?


Seattle Times Business Reporters Melissa Allison and Monica Soto Ouchi recently discussed the implications of the Barneys relocation on the luxury retail sector in Seattle. Opening June 29, the new Barneys isn't exactly a gigantic upgrade in terms of selling space. In fact, at 16,448 square feet, roughly 1/3 bigger than the old location on 5th in the City Centre mall, it’s significantly smaller than the new locations that Barneys has opened in Boston and Dallas. This new store isn't as much about expansion as it is about increased visibility. The old store, having stood in the same location next to Butch Blum and across from the Red Lion since 1990, was only frequented by the fashionably in-the-know of Seattle and the curious tourists and business travelers staying in hotels. Its location was closer to the luxury intersection of 5th and University than it was to the central shopping core near Westlake. Many Seattleites actually had no idea there was even a Barneys in the city to begin with. It was simply out of the way for those not looking for it. This new store is all about heralding a new Seattle image for the store. Located in Pacific Place, the location will likely receive significantly increased amounts of foot traffic among both locals and visitors alike. Pacific Place’s parking garage is well-known to be one of the most affordable, often mentioned in tour books and visitor's guides. The shopping center, along with the flagship Nordstrom directly across the sky bridge, form what many consider to be the heart of downtown Seattle shopping.

In particular, the location is interesting in how it will reshape shopping in Seattle. As far as shopping for luxury brands goes, Barneys doesn’t have a particular edge over other Seattle shopping meccas. According to the Pacific Place website, the store will offer "Balenciaga, Lanvin and Prada for women and Jil Sander, Paul Smith and Dries Van Noten for men. The CO-OP will offer Vince, DVF, Trovata and Rogan." Balenciaga and Lanvin have been on offer for women at Nordstrom for a couple of years now, with Prada, Paul Smith, and Rogan available at Mario's just down the street. Butch Blum has a decent selection of Jil Sander for men, while Trovata can be found at Ian, Blackbird, and even at Nordstrom now. Contemporary brands Vince and DVF are carried in several boutiques and department stores in the area.

While surely the buyers have chosen completely unique selections, there aren't many brands names in Seattle that aren't on offer at at least one other store, one that is also likely to be considered more of a Seattle institution than Barneys has been in the past 17 years. Mario's, Butch Blum, and of course Nordstrom have all been here longer and gained very loyal customer bases. Barneys customers include a wide array of decidedly fashion-conscious and experimental shoppers, from the visiting tourist who may not be back very regularly, to the fluttery fashionista who only comes in to buy the things she wants and doesn't feel as much loyalty to any particular store. Barneys may have a stellar shoe selection, but Nordstrom still has more Louboutins and Manolos. Barneys is great, but at this point they’re just another player in the increasingly crowding luxury market. With Neiman Marcus and the Bravern opening in Bellevue, Barneys will really need to differentiate their product selection to bring buyers in. To Barneys’ disadvantage, their service isn’t exactly legendary and they have no ties to the Northwest. To the average shopper, the biggest thing Barneys has going for them at this point is their famous name, made iconic in “Sex and the City” and “Will and Grace.” While Barneys indeed had a sizable amount of return customers, the biggest opportunity in this relocation will be to increase sales with increased visibility and foot traffic. This location in Pacific Place should definitely help in that respect, but how far will that take them? How many loyal Nordstrom and Mario’s customers will they be able to convert?

Just how much will the new Barneys influence downtown shopping? It will certainly help polarize the luxury shopping core to the north and south ends of the shopping district, with luxury department store and jewelry shopping to the north and boutique shopping to the south. It will build some prestige and fight the Seattle stereotype of flannel and Birkenstocks. But ultimately, only time will tell what, if anything, will really change downtown.

37 comments:

cameron said...

I really think that Barneys has got no taste; a friend of mine disagrees and thinks Barneys weeds out all of the sub-par items that Nordstrom still carries and hence makes the shopping experience much less daunting. Personally, I think that Barneys buyers must only discriminate on price; they don't seem to have the same level of style that I see at Mario's time and time again. I think independent boutiques, Nordstrom, and Mario's each destroy Barneys, in my book at least.

I'll be excited to see what the new Barneys store will bring, however.

Patrick said...

I think factor that Barneys will capitalize on much more effectively is the tourist foot traffic during the summer which frequents Pacific Place. It seems as though their current location is too hidden for tourists to discover.

One point of consideration is the shift from a smaller boutique to much more square footage. This may be a turnoff to some customers who value the boutique-feel of the old store.

Saks Fifth Avenue used to have a huge store where the current Old Navy Now is, but they shut it down in 1993 after being largely unsuccessful. Personally I think this was a HUGE mistake considering the boom which occurred in Seattle soon after the store's closure.

Xavier said...

That wasn't a Saks Fifth Avenue in the Old Navy building, that was I. Magnin, a chain of luxury department stores that was hurting as a whole, not just locally. The closest that Saks has come to entering a market was at Bellevue Square, where they tried once in the early 1990s and again at the height of the tech boom around 1999, at which time they had even announced they were close to a deal. Neiman Marcus used to have a Galleries of Neiman Marcus store in Westlake, which sold mainly gifts, jewelry, and household decor, but obviously that fizzled out in 2001 due to a less-than-prime location. Westlake at one point was considered a more upscale location until Pacific Place opened. Now Neiman Marcus is finally ready to break into the market again, but in an entirely new building in Bellevue. None of the buildings downtown supposedly suited their new location criteria, which involves some combination of visibility from a major roadway (I-405) and proximity to a certain amount of affluence and shoppers who have shown interest in the luxury sector, among other factors. The new Barneys isn't really that much bigger than the old Barneys. If you've ever been to the old Pottery Barn that was there before, it's just wider than the old Barneys, which was actually insufferably cramped. If anything, the new Barneys will just relieve the old location of the crowding that led the shoe "department" to be a little corridor between the staircase and the upstairs entrance. There wasn't even a real defined place to sit down and try them on. The product assortment and amount of merchandise doesn't even need to expand a whole lot to fill up the size of the new store. If they're going to separate themselves in the market, they better make sure nothing they buy is available elsewhere. Now that Nordstrom in Bellevue has picked up Prada and Miu Miu, and as every department store and boutique ups their designer quotient, it'll be interesting to see how Barneys keeps up. Brands like Trovata, which Barneys has been keen on carrying, has already been dropped or bought in much smaller quantities by an increasing number of boutiques across the nation, from Blackbird in Seattle to a whole bevy of shops in the Chicago area. Barneys is obviously not hurting if they can expand to a larger location, but they just have to be careful of losing their brand identity within all this growth.

Barneys is based not on a fashion democracy ideal like Nordstrom, but rather on being as exclusive as necessary to attract fashion-hungry and luxury-hungry customers while not scaring off new potential customers. The operative word is “exclusive”, as Barneys shoppers have gravitated towards the merchandise that Barneys buys exclusively. This exclusivity factor has been defined throughout the years with private label merchandise and exclusive collaborations with designers. Barneys’ private label merchandise at one point made up around 20% of their selection (http://www.answers.com/topic/barney-s-inc?cat=biz-fin) in the early 1900s, but has since risen to upwards of 30% (http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/1997/10/17/sny.t.php). Barneys also works with designers, more often in the CO-OP, to offer designs or styles that aren’t available at other stores. For instance, they currently have Barney-exclusive dresses from 3.1 Phillip and Diane von Furstenberg, as well as a private selection of sweaters with Mayle, all of which are brands that are otherwise fairly ubiquitous in the boutique and upscale department store world. Whether Barneys can enforce this exclusivity image in Seattle in a location that definitely wouldn’t seem so “secret” anymore, that remains the biggest uncertainty for the moment. Will current Barneys customers feel overwhelmed by the increased influx of “newbies”? If they decide to shop elsewhere, will there be enough new customers to replace the lost sales? The problem is, many people that /really/ want to shop at Barneys already know where it is and already shop there. I’ll check in on June 29 to find out.

Patrick said...

My bad, I read that it was in the old navy building on wikipedia, but now that fact has mysteriously disappeared..

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have been to Barney New York at the new downtown Seattle location four times now, each time hoping the service and product would improve. The customer service was terrible, they treated me with no respect and though i was prepared to shop and buy items i chose not to due to the fact that the sales associates were so rude. The selection within the store was also poor, the jeans were similar to those you could find in Nordstrom at Via C, Saavy or TBD, however at Nordstrom you recieve service without the attitude. The one thing that i did enjoy was the more extensive collection of women's shoes. It definitely out ranged Nordstrom's Salon shoes.
-Blakeley

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't think that the new Barney's will change how fashion is looked at in Seattle. Same with when Neiman Marcus opens in Bellevue. Locals just don't care about the changing trends and the majority of the people that the companies are targeting most likely have never heard of Emilio Pucci or Yves Saint Laurent, so I don't think that Seattle ever will get out of it's nerdy Microsofty style. However, there will always be places to shop in New York, LA, Boston, San Francisco, Miami and Hawaii!

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