From merchandising and advertising to real estate and technology, business reporters offer insight into the latest trends and people that define today’s top retailers.

See "The Book of Mormon" at the Orpheum for $25 through Sept. 14

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: August 22, 2014 - 2:38 PM

Hennepin Theatre Trust's ad blitz for " The Book of Mormon" at the Orpheum Theatre has been buzzing for months, but the $25 ticket option is a more subtle nod. Tickets are regularly $65 to $173 with fees unless you are one of the lucky persons whose name is drawn in a lottery two hours before curtain time. They can purchase 1 or 2 tickets for $25 each (cash only).

You will need a little luck on your side. About 50 to 100 people typically show up to claim 10 or 20 pairs of tickets, based on availability. People bring their significant other or friend to the drawing to increase the chances that one of their names will be drawn.

Here's how it works: Two and one-half hours before show time, people can obtain a drawing ticket to print their name and the number of tickets desired on it. The drawing is held two hours before the show starts. Winners must be present at the time of drawing to claim the tickets. They must show ID, which will be checked when the tickets are redeemed, to discourage winners from scalping the $25 ticket, said Karen Nelson, HTT's communication director.

If your name is drawn, you are not required to purchase the tickets if you're unhappy with the seat location, Nelson said, but you can't choose another seat. The seat assignments given to each winner are random, so the first person's name to be drawn doesn't necessarily get the best available seats.

The lottery/drawing system is rarely used with HTT's Broadway shows. Only "Wicked" and "Book of Mormon" have done so. Other shows may be subject to a student rush, but Nelson does not expect that a student rush will be added during the show. That is up to the show's promoters, not Hennepin Theatre Trust.

However, those who don't win tickets in the drawing may want to check with the box office to see if unsold seats may be discounted.

The shows runs Tuesdays through Sundays until Sept. 14. It won 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and features book, music and lyrics by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Will the new Eagan outlet mall weaken Albertville Premium Outlets?

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Malls Updated: August 15, 2014 - 3:54 PM

Listening to shoppers J'Nai Buchanan of St. Louis Park, Jana Miller of Bloomington and Alana Lea of Shakopee praise the new Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan on Thursday, I became a bit worried for Premium Outlets of Albertville. The three co-workers talked about how Eagan's layout, food and store selection is superior to Albertville's.

"Goodbye Albertville," said Miller laughing. The others quickly nodded in agreement.

Initially, it's easy to jump to that conclusion. Eagan's outlet mall is much more convenient in terms of layout and parking, and the store selection is impressive. But it's not surprising that residents from southwestern suburbs would prefer Eagan. It's a lot closer for them than Albertville.

When I asked Megan Kleve and Libby Schuett of Blaine which outlet mall they like better, Eagan won. But the two said they were more likely to visit Albertville more often. "I might come to Eagan twice a year and around the holidays," said Kleve.

What a lot of shoppers may have missed in the hubbub of the new outlet mall with exclusive stores such as 7 for all Mankind, Calphalon, Cole Haan, Armani, Vera Bradley and Steve Madden is that Albertville has just as many exclusives.

In other words, Albertville has more than 20 national brand stores not found in Eagan---stores that I'm guessing Buchanan, Miller, Lea and others wish were in Eagan. Stores that may have them driving back to Albertville include Lululemon, Kenneth Cole, Ugg, Aerosoles, Aldo, Bose, Harry & David, Aeropostale, BCBG Max Azria, Columbia, Guess, Icing, Izod, Jones New York, Lane Bryant, Levi's, Nautica, Rockport, Rue 21, Zales Jewelry and Zumiez.

My hunch is that residents of Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Plymouth and even Minnetonka will check out Eagan if they like outlet malls, but they'll go back more often to Albertville for convenience. It's simple--Albertville is closer. Both malls have 100 stores and they have nearly 60 of the same stores in common.

It's difficult to imagine Simon Property Group, the owner or co-owner of both Twin Cities outlet malls to let one flounder at the expense of the other. Let's hope that it will strengthen both as even more tourists will be drawn to the Twin Cities for the sudden expansion of outlet stores.

What do we really think of outlet malls?

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Malls Updated: August 14, 2014 - 8:07 AM

Seems as if the most common comments people say to me about outlet malls are "Are the deals really that good?" and "Why shop there when I can go online?"

Those comments are usually said by people who don't shop outlet malls much. They don't realize that since 2006, more than 40 outlet malls have opened and only 1 full-priced mall. Much of the reason that new full-price malls aren't being built is the lackluster economy but also the Internet. More than $1 out of every $20 retail dollars is now spent on the Internet, according to the Census Bureau. But the reason that outlet malls and even Mall of America are less affected by the Internet is that they are shopping destinations. Take Orlando and Las Vegas, for example. Both are huge tourist draws and their outlet malls do extremely well, according to Mark Silvestri, COO at Simon Property Group, which co-owns Twin Cities Premium Outlets and centers in Vegas and Orlando. And Mall of America is a huge retail success aka "shopping destination" in our back yard.

Consumer Reports polled shoppers and asked their opnion of outlet malls. They found that 60 percent of shoppers are completely or very satisfied with the outlet shopping experience and believe that outlet malls offer exceptional value. Shoppers' most common complaint? Higher than expected prices.

I suspect there will be a little grumbling from shoppers visiting the high-end designer stores at TCPO in Eagan. But outlets haven't been a rock bottom source of deals for decades. The typical savings is 38% according to Linda Humphers at Value Retail News, which follows the outlet industry. The days of seconds and overstocks are gone. Now 85% of outlet store inventory is made specifically for the outlet. It's of slightly lower quality that the dept. store merchandise, thus the lower price, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group.

More to come later today as I blog after visiting the mall. Meanwhile check out my story in today's paper for more details.

Twin Cities' Office Depot/Office Max store closings start to leak out

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: August 8, 2014 - 12:31 PM

Over the noon hour on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis Thursday, several people saddled with brightly colored sandwich boards on their shoulders announced that everything in the Office Depot downtown was up to 70 percent off. A store employee confirmed by phone that the store is closing Sept. 6. It's one of three closings in the Twin Cities confirmed by employees but not the company.Everything is currently marked 20 to 70 percent off.

Office Depot/Max expects to close about 400 stores by 2016.The company now has about 1,600 stores. In 2013 Office Depot completed the its purchase of rival chain Office Max. Areas that have both an Office Max and an Office Depot are vulnerable to one or the other closing.

Office Depot has not formally announced any specific store closings yet, but store employees answering the phone Thursday in the downtown Minneapolis Office Depot, the Eden Prairie Office Max, and the Maple Grove Office Depot confirmed their closings. Employees indicated

a Nov. 15 closing in Eden Prairie and a November closing in Maple Grove.

An employee said that Burnsville and Coon Rapids Office Depot locations would also be closing, but managers in Burnsville and Coon Rapids locations would not confirm or deny the closing. Each city currently has an Office Depot and an Office Max location, making a closure of one more likely than in suburbs with a single store.

An Office Depot Max representative would not confirm the closings of any of the five stores. "For competitive reasons we are not providing specific store location information at this time," said Julianne Embry, a senior public relations manager in an e-mail. In an earnings call on Aug. 5, Office Depot Max confirmed that 165 of the 400 locations will be closing by the end of this year. The company expects to save at least $100 million from the closings by the end of 2016. It had previously reported a $75 million expected savings.

Shake your Groot thing at "Guardians of the Galaxy" in a D-Box seat

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Technology Updated: August 4, 2014 - 2:13 PM

In June I wrote about the ways that movie theater owners are coaxing people away from their big screen TVs at home and into their theaters with bigger screens, bigger sound, and bigger seats, including recliners.

But Theatres at Mall of America packs a punch literally in its D-Box seats. They move in tandem with the action on the screen, varying from vibrations when a spaceship explodes to a backward jolt when a character is walloped on screen.

If you haven't ever sat in one of MOA's 30 D-Box seats, the newly-released "Guardians of the Galaxy" is like a ride at Valley Fair with D-Box. "It adds another layer to enjoying the movie," said Chris Grap, business development and project manager at the mall theaters. "Guardians is the perfect type of D-Box movie. It's got laser blasts, ships flying, ground level hand to hand combat, and vehicular motion."

 "Guardians" is the new summer popcorn hit that had a record $95 million opening this past weekend (biggest debut on record for an August release). The movie earned a 92 percent thumbs up from Rotten Tomatoes. It stars Chris Pratt as Peter Jason Quill, Vin Diesel doing voiceover as the tree-like Groot, Bradley Cooper doing voiceover as Rocket the raccoon, Zoe Saldana as green-faced Gomora and former wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer.

Mall of America is the only theater that has D-Box in Minnesota. It has 30 D-box seats in one theater that can be reserved only at the theater's Guest Services desk (to the right of the box office window). Guests choose their reserved seats, which can be done the day of the show or several days in advance. Grap said that nearly all D-Box seats were sold out over the weekend.

Tickets are premium-priced. Since "Guardians" was shot in 3D, tickets cost an extra $3.50 for the 3D plus an extra $8 for D-Box on top regular admission ($6 for matinees or $10 for evening shows). So a matinee D-Box seat for "Guardians" will cost $17.50 and up to $21.50 for evening shows. (On Wednesday evenings it's $17.50.)

Only select movies are shown in D-Box. Usually, it's an action movie such as "Fast & Furious." The next new release expected to bring in the D-Box fans will be "Expendables 3," released Aug. 15.

Those worried about motion sickness can dial down the action a notch or two or turn it off completely. My Vertigo-challenged partner enjoyed it thoroughly. One dad brought an infant, which I assume was gently or not-so-gently lulled into slumber by the movement. I never heard a cry or wail, except from the speakers.

 

Target's promotions get aggressive; Online store pickup gets $10 off

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Target Updated: July 31, 2014 - 8:46 AM

Target isn't "nickel and diming" its customers lately. You may have noticed that almost each week in its Sunday newspaper flier it offers a coupon for $5 to $20 off a specified category. This week it's $5 off a meat purchase of $20 or more (fresh, frozen or deli) and $5 off S-sport shoes. Last week it was $15 off a $50 purchase in the pet dept. (food, litter and treats) and $10 off a home furnishings purchase of $50 or more. Three weeks ago it was $20 off a $100 purchase in the baby department.

Pick up an extra copy of the circular w/ the coupon at the service desk or get a text on your smartphone while you're in the store (check signs in the highlighted department for the number).

Target hasn't cut back on promotional gift cards with purchase either. Recent amounts have varied from $5 to $100 with the purchase of Apple products, pet products, Advil, Charmin, Clorox and Burt's Bees.

But the promo that really surprised me is today's $10 off  a store policy, not a product. Through Saturday, Aug. 2, you can get $10 off an online order of $40 or more when you choose store pickup. That's a discount that's been promoted before but never discounted, said Target spokesman Eddie Baeb. He said the store pickup consistently makes up more than 10 percent of Target's online sales, but the company offered the promotion "to drive more engagement and use,"  since it debuted nationally in November 2013.

Kathee Tesija, Target’s executive vice president of merchandising, said late last year that the retailer would be offering "some eye-popping, irresistible deals" during the holidays and beyond. Eight months and many circulars later, I'm inclined to agree that the deals do seem better. The downside? Consumers have to spend more to get the savings, which hurts lower-income shoppers.

But I'd rather get a $5 savings in one fell swoop than have to collect ten 50 cent coupons.

 

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