Monday, February 18, 2013

Outlet mall popularity surprises forecaster

By  Tim Feran - The Columbus Dispatch

 In almost a decade of forecasting trends, local retail observer Chris Boring usually has been able to guess the top trends of the year, months ahead of time.

But even he was surprised when he realized what had to be this year’s No. 1 trend: “Outlet Mall Mania.”

“I never dreamed this would be the No. 1 trend for 2013 a year ago,” said Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies. “In fact, the last time I looked at outlet malls was the 1980s or ’90s.”

Back in the ’80s, outlet malls flourished, he said. But as more of them were built in the ’90s, the inevitable shakeout occurred.

“What seemed to happen was, the ones that survived got stronger, and very quietly the industry regained momentum,” Boring said.So quietly that when top mall owner Simon Property Group bought an outlet mall company in 2004, it surprised everyone.

“Flash forward to today, and sales per square foot are now 90 percent higher than at their traditional malls,” Boring said.

So, the announcement in rapid succession that four outlet malls are planned for central Ohio was actually a story waiting to happen.

That the four groups backing the proposals all have heavyweight credentials is making it difficult for those who want to predict the eventual winner.

“I think one of the projects at the Rts. 36/37 interchange will move forward, and there’s also a good chance that the Glimcher or New Albany project will also move forward,” Boring said.

Whichever of the latter two projects does advance “has to have a significant differentiation from whatever is built at Rts. 36/37,” he said.

That being the case, Boring believes one project is particularly intriguing — the New Albany project involving Leslie H. Wexner, Limited Brands founder and CEO.

“We’ve seen what Mr. Wexner has done with the regional mall concept. He turned it on its head with Easton. I’d love to see what he would do with an outlet mall. I don’t have a clue what he might do, but I can’t see him just building a garden-variety outlet mall.”

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