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.

Blu Dot modern furniture to open outlet store in Minneapolis

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: March 20, 2015 - 5:09 PM

Blu Dot, the Minneapolis-based manufacturer of modern furniture, will not have one of its wildly popular but infrequent warehouse sales this summer. Or ever again for the foreseeable future.

But there's an upside. They're being replaced with an outlet store expected to open in early July, said Blu Dot vice-president Medora Danz Friday. The store will sell discounted closeouts, samples and scratch and dent merchandise. Sofas, sectionals, and chairs were popular sellers at previous warehouse sales.

"As our needs for warehouse space grew, there wasn't enough capacity for warehouse sales anymore," she said. With limited storage space for warehouse items and a big hassle factor in holding the sale, Danz said the outlet was the obvious alternative.


Another reason is that Blu Dot is adding its first outlet store is the likelihood of more product samples. The company plans to start sending out more catalogs this year, Danz said.

The new store will be located at the current location of the company offices at 1323 Tyler St. NE in Minneapolis and open Saturdays and Sundays only to start. The offices will move next door and the warehouse in Rogers, where the former sales were held, will move to Otsego.

 Blu Dot designs all of its furniture in Minnesota but some of it is manufactured overseas. Much of the line is sold at Roam in Uptown. The company has also made selected designs for Target, including the Too line.

No word on whether coffee and pastries will be served to those waiting in line, as Blu Dot employees did for the hordes who waited in line before the doors opned at the warehouse sales.The last warehouse sale was in 2013 in Rogers.

Job postings for outlet employees and a store manager will be posted next week.

Target's men's design collection debut is quieter than women's

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Target Updated: March 16, 2015 - 11:44 AM

What a difference a sex makes. Target announced its collaboration with Lilly Pulitzer back in January even though the line won't be released until April 19. Since then, video promos for the iconic women's line are running regularly.

Compare that to the men's collection that Target released online Sunday, March 15. The 90-piece collection got no "heads up" in Target's Sunday circular. Online, the dominant ad is the  "spring home sale," not the new men's collection.

"We kept it low key," said Target spokeswoman Jessica Carlson. "This program is a new twist on the traditional designer collaboration. It's a test and learn."

Six collections are included: Billykirk travel bags and accessories, Owen & Fred soaps and accessories, Locally Grown t-shirts and caps from Iowa, Terrapin stationery, Taylor Stitch slacks and shirts, and Minnesota-based Duluth Pack overnight and messenger bags.

Target analyst Leon Nicholas, senior vice-president at Kantar Retail, said it's surprising to see Target go after men's style after focusing so much on women. "The men's department at Target is mostly Champion, Merona, a few ties and Father's Day trinkets," he said.

 It's part of an ongoing effort to move to higher prices and higher profit margin items, Nicholas said. "If we lose penetration, let's double down on where the money is," he said of Target's strategy.

Prices on most pieces are on the high side for a discounter, including a $36 tee from Locally Grown, Taylor Stitch pants for $98, and a bar of vegan soap with cedar tray for $16 (oddly out of stock already). The highest-priced item is a Duluth Pack bag for $270.

Instead of traditional advertising, the company is using more social media channels to appeal to the Millennial audience. The items are higher-priced but made in the U.S., a feature that Carlson said is often more appealing to male shoppers.

The collection will be available online through mid-summer. Some pieces from Billykirk will be made available in 130 stores, including some in the Twin Cities. Most but not all of the items are Target exclusives.

Nicholas expects the collection to be moderately successful for Target. "It's a good platform for what Millennial men will buy and at what price point," he said.



How to make $225 at the Twin Cities Auto Show

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: March 11, 2015 - 2:23 PM

Wednesday (March 11) is the lowest admission price during the entire Twin Cities Auto Show. All tickets are half-price at $6. But there's also a way you can walk away with $25 to $225 with a little effort on your part.

At last year's Twin Cities Auto Show I accidently discovered a way to make a few bucks. After asking a lot of questions about the Fusion at the Ford booth, the sales rep asked if I might be interested in the "It pays to test drive a Ford" program. The car maker will pay a potential customer $50 to test drive one of their new vehicles.

At this year's show I found five auto makers offering between $25 and $50 for a test drive: Lincoln ($50 MasterCard stored value gift card), Kia ($25 giftcard by registering at, Ford ($50 gift card, possibly Amazon), Cadillac ($50 Visa card), and Buick ($50 gift card to Target or Second Swing). I didn't talk to every manufacturer at the show, but some offer a credit on a vehicle instead--Subaru was $250 and Lexus $500. The credits have a time limit, so check that, but a smart consumer should negotiate the best deal before even mentioning the credit. (Check the card for any restrictions first such as an expiration date.)

How does it work? You ask one of the car manufacturer's employees holding a tablet/iPad if you can sign up for the test drive incentive. (They're usually standing near the auto maker's info desk.) I had no trouble doing that on Sunday, but one woman who was heavily tattooed and casually dressed said she experienced some initial resistance at a luxury car booth. The employee types your name, address, phone and email information into the computer/tablet and then provides a card with instructions on what to do next.

Some manufacturers will email you a code number; others give it to you immediately. Input the code number online to print out a pass to be taken to a dealer near you for the test drive. After you take the test drive and the dealer completes the paperwork, the gift card is mailed within about 4 weeks.

It may be more trouble than it's worth for many people. Without a $50 giftcard, I'd be less likely to drive a Buick Regal, Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima or Lincoln MKZ. Now that my car has 100,000 miles on it, I'm open to suggestion.

I haven't heard if the incentives dry up as the show goes on, but it's common courtesy to show genuine interest in a vehicle before asking for a freebie. If you're a jerk about it, they may choose not to offer you one.

Last year I received $50 each from Toyota and Ford. I don't recall getting lots of annoying promotional emails, if you're concerned about that. Once you get a gift card, you can always look for the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the email.

Last minute ideas to use (not lose) 2014 Flexible Spending $$

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: March 9, 2015 - 4:02 PM

Sunday March 15 is the last day to use up any remaining dollars left in a 2014 flexible spending account, assuming that your employer is allowing the extension. Employers were not required to allow employees to submit expenses incurred from January 1 to March 15 and apply it to unused money in a 2014 FSA account, so check with your HR department before going on a spending spree.

The extension is not the same as the run out period. A run-out period is the window during which employees may submit claims for reimbursement for eligible expenses. For example, if an FSA has a Dec. 31 deadline and no grace period, but has a 90-day run-out period, you’d have until April 1 to submit receipts for expenses you had during the previous year.

The FSAstore offers the following as suggestions for using up the remaining dollars. Remember that most over-the-counter medications such as allergy drugs and headache remedies are ineligible for reimbursement unless you have already obtained a prescription or a letter of medical necessity for them from your doctor.

  • Assorted Band-aids
  • First-aid bags for kids
  • Liquid bandages
  • Mini first-aid kits for the car, or flights
  • Wound treatment/gauze
  • Thermometers
  • Contact lens care and solutions
  • Medicine organizers
  • Hot or cold therapy eye masks
  • Acupressure wrist bands to prevent motion sickness
  • Contact lens solution and contact lens cases
  • Orthopedic neck support
  • Kinesiology tapes (KT Tape) for stressed muscles
  • Cooling headache sheets for adults and kids
  • Heatwraps to alleviate muscle aches
  • Sunscreen lip balm
  • Insect-repellent sunscreen
  • Sunscreen (SPF15+)
  • Cold compresses
  • Thermal-aid stuffed animals for soothing comfort for kids
  • Cold packs for neck or back
  • Heatwraps for sore muscles (back, hip, shoulder)
  • Elastic bandages
  • Athletic treatments (knee and ankle braces)
  • Migraine cooling headache pads
  • A sports first-aid kit
  • Blister treatment
  • Shoe insoles for added support
  • Breast pumps & accessories (cleaning wipes, storage bags)
  • Baby sunscreen
  • Thermal-Aid stuffed animals (hot/cold therapy) for kids
  • Cartoon-themed Band-Aids (Mickey Mouse, Cars, SpongeBob)
  • Saline solution for baby, nasal spray for kids
  • Baby pacifier digital thermometer
  • Nasal Cease nosebleed packings
  • An all-purpose first-aid kit for the entire family
  • Medicators that make it easy to administer medicine to babies, like Munchkin the Medicator

How to score discounted tickets to the Twin Cities Auto Show

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Technology Updated: March 6, 2015 - 8:17 AM

The jingle is already earworming its way through my brain as I write this. "Gotta go to the auto show."

It'll cost you $12 per person this year, up a couple of bucks from last year. But you can easily find $2 savings or more at this year's show March 7-15.

Save $2 per admission by ordering tickets at the show's website . Most new car dealers will also have discount coupons for $2 available from their salespeople.

Attendees can also save $2 with a donation of household goods, clothing, and coats at the show. All items collected will go to Goodwill. On Tuesday March 10 (country night), get $2 off if you wear a cowboy hat. There's also a free concert from 6-8 p.m. by the Davisson Brother Band concert near the Dodge Ram display, hat or no hat.

Discounts cannot be combined.

On Saturday and Sunday (March 7-8 and March 14-15), anyone who wants a free booster-seat safety check can drive up directly outside the Convention Center on Grant Street. One free ticket to the show is offered to those who take part.

The best discount is on half-price day, Wednesday, March 11. All tickets are $6 that day. No additional discounts are allowed.

Are you now infected with the "gotta go to the auto show" earworm? Over and out.


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