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David Brazeau, a vice president and regional manager for Belk, declined to give an exact figure but said that Belk Inc., a retailer with headquarters in Charlotte, will spend several million dollars on the project, touching all three floors of the store with a fresh look and new and expanded assortments of merchandise.

“Customers will see a dramatic change,” he said.

At 235,839 square feet, Belk is the largest of the mall’s department stores. Penney, Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Dennis Cerny, the mall’s general manager, said that it’s a good sign for the entire mall that Belk is investing in its store.

“If you look at a natural retail cycle in five to 10 years, unless you reinvent yourself, sales start to plateau,” Cerny said. “Upon re invention, there is an automatic surge in sales.”

He said that the mall turns over about 20 tenants a year, changing the mix of merchandise to rekindle customer interest.

“All the department stores own their respective buildings and adjacent parking lots, so it’s important for them to keep pace as well,” he said.

The slowing economy makes it tough for department stores and other retailers to operate now, so offering something new is a strategy that can help get customers in the door. When traffic is down that much, it’s pretty hard to have any sales increases because you’re seeing fewer people.”

Beemer said that Belk is a better run department store than some stores in terms of staffing its stores and having people around to answer customer questions.

“Belk has done a good job by not vacating their home department because so many department stores are just overgrown apparel stores.

Belk has 300 stores in 16 Southern states. The retailer reported sales of $817.3 million for its first quarter compared with sales of $904.5 million for the same period in 2007. When the results were released in May, the company cited a difficult economic environment that affected consumer spending in its markets for the decrease.

During this period, Belk opened five new stores and expanded several existing stores as it continued to integrate 25 former Parisian stores that were rebranded as Belk in September 2007.

In July, Brazeau said, Belk outperformed most department stores, as people spent their stimulus checks and new brands at Belk helped attract what it calls “the modern” customer.

Brazeau said that the four stores he is in charge of, including Belk at Hanes Mall, did “outstanding” business during North Carolina’s tax free weekend two weeks ago.

In terms of the renovation, he said that the Belk at Hanes Mall is simply due for a major makeover given the fact that it has not had one in about 10 years.

He also said that adding new merchandise and expanding existing brands will help the store as it goes after a “more modern customer.”

“The more modern customers want a little more fashion and a little more style,” Brazeau said.

“They are responding to newness. New is big, and we try to be out there with the fashion statements and colors.”

Belk is by no means walking away from the classic brands that it has carried for years but wants to also go after contemporary and younger customers.

“Usually consumers who are under 35 are much more appearance store driven than people over 40,” Beemer said. “So if you do remodel a store and really upgrade it and make it more contemporary of today, you’ll get more younger shoppers immediately checking you out.”

But, he said, stores cannot keep the same old, dumpy merchandise in a contemporary store if they want to increase business. As part of the renovation project, walls, fitting rooms and common areas have been removed and put in other locations to create more space for merchandise.

All of the store’s “soft home” items such as towels, comforters and other bedding on the store’s third level will move to the back of its first level where new shelves are being installed to showcase products.

This move also helps the store expand its women’s fashions on the second level and put all women’s sportswear and dresses on the third level.

An expanded women’s shoe department with more than 15,000 pairs of shoes, headlines the changes at the store.

When completed, Brazeau said, this section of the store will be the largest of its kind at a department store in the Triad and the second largest in North Carolina.

Changes at the store started last year with a mini makeover that included the expansion of several lines of clothing such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Bahama for men and Lauren St. John and Karen Kane for women.

The store also set up a Belk’s Pro Tour shop, providing the retailer’s private label golf brand for men. The Pro Tour shop has a wide screen TV and “comfort” seating for shoppers.
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