Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hudson Belk gives men their space

Updated 6/5/07 with additional information (see below)

Stand-alone Men's Store opens at Crabtree Valley Mall with more clothes, shoes

Sue Stock, Staff Writer
The News & Observer

RALEIGH - Employees at the new Hudson Belk Men's Store in Raleigh's Crabtree Valley Mall are still arranging displays and unpacking merchandise, but the store was ready enough to open its doors Sunday afternoon.

Belk has moved into the top floor of what used to be Lord & Taylor, bringing mahogany shelves, racks of polo shirts, an expanded shoe department and legions of khaki pants.

The arrival of the 68,000-square-foot Belk Men's Store signals a new approach in this market by the longtime shopping staple.

This is Belk's first stand-alone Men's Store in the area, though it has 15 others in cities such as Danville, Va. It's also the biggest Men's Store the Charlotte retailer has ever built.

Company executives acknowledge that it's a strategy that won't work everywhere.

Shopping centers have to generate enough sales and traffic to make a stand-alone store worthwhile, said Steve Pernotto, the executive vice president.

"It has to be a highly productive center, and we look at sales per square foot and profitability," he said. "We look at the current and the future. You need to look out at where you're going to be in the next couple of years."

Other Belk Men's Stores have been successful, Pernotto said.

He declined to offer specific figures but said a store's sales would typically rise by a few hundred dollars per additional square foot.

The Belk Men's Store at Crabtree is double the size of the old men's department, with 34,000 additional square feet.

Still, despite all the optimism, customers were a bit confused.

Those who visited the old men's department were greeted by empty shelves, a few sales racks and a sign directing them to the new Men's Store.

Mitch Danforth, a senior civil engineering major at N.C. State University, was surprised by the speed of the transition.

"I came to Belk on Saturday and looked at sports jackets, and I came back today and found they had moved," he said. "But they kept the sale prices, so I'm fine."

Belk executives say the confusion will only be temporary. "Change always takes a little time for people to get used to it," store manager Lee O'Rourke said "You'll start to see lots of advertising as we lead into our official grand opening."

Some shoppers Monday were waiting to see whether the new store would retain their favorite qualities from the old store.

Cary resident Al Blalock said he's a fast shopper who goes into the store, gets what he wants and leaves.

"I liked coming to Belk because I didn't feel like someone had to escort me around," Blalock said. "As long as that stays the same, I'm OK."

Alienating shoppers such as Blalock is the last thing Belk wants to do. Overall at Belk stores, 70 percent of the shoppers in the men's department are women.

The Men's Stores offer a chance to appeal directly to men, with no makeup counters or perfume-spraying attendants to dodge and a decor of dark wood and dark colors, Pernotto said.

"The female's going to shop there, regardless, for their husband," Pernotto said. "We think we'll increase the percent of males that shop in our location instead of shopping at another location."

Cary resident Wayne Harris, said he will spend a lot of time in the new Men's Store. He already shops at men's specialty stores such as Liles Clothing Studio in North Hills.

"I think a big percentage of guys just don't like to shop," he said. "But maybe that's because there's not enough selection. ... This will definitely be a shot in the arm for men's shopping around here. They've been needing this."

Other shoppers wondered whether the store was too sophisticated.

"The main focus is on the business attire," said Raleigh resident Curtis Brown, a recent N.C. State University graduate. "Their fashion sense for the younger generation isn't really that much."

Renovation in the old men's department in the original Belk store starts Monday, O'Rourke said. Cosmetics, accessories and intimate apparel will expand into the space. The work will be completed in November.

The new Belk Men's Store will have its grand opening June 1.

Belk's for men jazzed up
Samantha Thompson Smith, Staff Writer
The News & Observer

RALEIGH - Burberry at Belk? That's just one of the big surprises at the new stand-alone Belk men's store that recently opened in the old Lord & Taylor space at Crabtree Valley Mall.

Here's another shocker: 7 for All Mankind jeans. A few of which sell for $198.

Grandad's Belk? Clearly not.

Finally Belk has done to men's fashion what it started doing for women a few years ago. The new store is a pleasant surprise; a mix of old faithfuls that Belk shoppers grew up with -- Saddlebred, Levi's and Ralph Lauren -- coupled with brands you wouldn't expect at Belk. Among them: Gitman Brothers button-downs, Ferragamo ties, Donald Pliner loafers and Paper Denim & Cloth jeans.

They don't come with traditional Belk pricing, either. The Ferragamo ties sell for $135. Burberry button downs cost $115.

There's still plenty of what we're used to. There are plenty of Meeting Street button-downs, and the store has hundreds of Polo shirts -- so many, the Polo shop is among the largest in the Southeast.

But if you want to take it up a notch, here's the place to look. The store also sells higher-end suits by Burberry and Hugo Boss. The selection of Joseph Abboud has expanded. And there's Tommy Bahama wear both for weekends and for work.

The new space is one of the biggest shops for men's clothing and accessories in the area, taking up 68,000 square feet, more than double the retail space of its old location in the lower level of the Crabtree Belk store.

The changes have been a long time coming. Nordstrom and Saks both came into the market a few years ago stocking trendy, big-name brands appealing to more fashion-conscious male shoppers.

Stay tuned. Merchandisers are waiting to see what customers like. Then they plan to edit the selection once they get a better feel for customer demand, says Travis Groome, a Belk merchandise coordinator.

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