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.

Cross-posted via The Fashion Investor

1 comment:

Kyle W. said...

Im sorry to tell you but there is no luxury on the rise in Seattle or Bellevue. Neiman Marcus opens adleast four to fife new stores a year in the unites states, and most of them are 10 times more profitable then the bravern could possibly ever imagine. Just look at Bal Harbour, Costa Mesa, or Copley Place. The Bravern will never be able to compete with them.