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.

Wet Seal closing 7 stores in Minn; MOA and Maple Grove remain

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: January 7, 2015 - 10:25 AM

Teen clothing retailer Wet Seal abruptly closed 338 stores Monday and Tuesday, laying off about 3,700 employees on short notice.

In Minnesota, stores in Rosedale, Southdale, Maplewood Mall, Burnsville Center, Crossroads Center in St. Cloud, Miller Hill Mall in Duluth and Apache Mall in Rochester closed Tuesday, according to store reps in the Rosedale and St. Cloud stores. Mall of America and Shoppes at Arbor Lakes stores in Maple Grove will remain open.

The California-based company will have 173 stores in 42 states and an online business after the closings, according to a corporate statement on its website.

Wet Seal CEO Ed Thomas said in a statement online,  "This was a very difficult decision to make, but after reviewing many other options since I returned to the Company in September, our financial condition leaves us no other alternative than to close these stores. This is an extremely difficult time for the entire Wet Seal team, and we are doing everything we can to protect the interests of all of our stakeholders, including our employees. We acknowledge and sympathize with how hard these recent events have been on our employees, both those staying with the Company and especially those who are leaving the Company this week."

Teen clothing retailers in general have struggled the past few years, especially Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and Delia's, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year. Others such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara have performed better with inexpensive fast fashion.

"It's a zero sum game for teen apparel retailers," said Dave Brennan,  co-director of the University of St. Thomas Institute for Retailing Excellence. "Teens have limited resources and lately they're spending more of their money on gadgets than clothes."

Brennan said one bright spot might be the minimum wage increase that went into effect Jan. 1 in many states. That may give teens more disposable income, he said.

Target's next designer partnership: Lilly Pulitzer

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Target Updated: January 7, 2015 - 12:07 PM

Target sure knows how to throw a party.

In order to announce its next designer partnership, the Minneapolis-based retailer rented out the Four Season Restaurant's pool room in midtown Manhattan. It shrouded the designer's identity in secrecy until guests, including New York fashion editors, arrived, building up the suspense by dangling clues on signs in the hallway leading up to the room.

Once they entered the room, they learned the answer: Lilly Pulitzer, the resortwear line known for its vibrant prints. The brand's founder and namesake, a Palm Beach designer, died in 2013.

Models lounged on hammocks around a small pool in the center of the room. And a handful of exotic birds, including a macaw, were sprinkled throughout the space. (Pulitzer was apparently quite the socialite and often had animals, including monkeys, at her parties.)

Samples of the 250-piece Lilly Pulitzer for Target collection were scattered throughout the room. The limited-edition collaboration has a much broader range of items than offered in Target's more recent designer partnerships that have been more apparel-focused. This collection will span not just women's and girls' clothes, but will also have everything from dishes and towels to hammocks and nail polish.

And, yes, parts of this collection will be available in plus sizes (14-26) online. Target has been criticized in the past for not offering plus sizes in all of its previous collaborations.

Most of the pieces will be under $30, but the collection overall will range in price from $2 to $150. The items will hit stores and Target's website on April 19.

"Ultimately, we were looking for someone to work with who understands print and patterns," said Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman. "We wanted something cheery and optimistic."

Target also went with bold prints last spring with its designer partnership with Peter Pilotto. Its most recent collaboration with Joseph Altuzarra in the fall had a more sophisticated feel to it.

Lilly Pulitzer's team has been working with Target for about a year on the upcoming collection, Thomas said. He added that it includes 15 exclusive prints, which are updated versions of Pulitzer's designs over of the years.

Saks Off 5th will close Jan. 17 but may reopen in downtown Mpls.

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Department stores Updated: January 6, 2015 - 11:00 AM

Saks Off 5th in downtown Minneapolis will close Saturday, Jan. 17, according to Tiffany Bourre, external communications director for Hudson's Bay Company, which owns Saks.

With storewide discounts of 70% off everything for the past week (except art), the remaining merchandise has been consolidated on the second floor with art and store fixtures on the third floor. I was shocked at how many men's suits have sold. A week ago there were hundreds left in a wide size range. On Monday there were fewer than 75 left.

Bourre wrote in an email that there may be additional discounts but did not confirm if they would start this week. A store employee said that new markdowns are announced in the morning with no advance notice.

Saks outlet shoppers in the Twin Cities can still patronize the Off 5th that opened last August in the Eagan Outlet mall, Twin Cities Premium Outlets. They can also hold out hope that Saks may open another outlet in Minneapolis down the road. Nothing is signed but Bourre wrote, "We are actively looking for additional locations in the Minneapolis market, including downtown."

Rumors have circulated that Saks and another high-fashion retailer may be interested in opening outlet stores  in City Center in the former Office Depot space on a corner at S. 7th St. and Nicollet Mall.

About 50 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closing. There is no word on whether any of those employees will be able to transfer to the Eagan store.

Bargain hunters can still find plenty to woo them to the outlet, except for much of the art for sale on the 3rd floor. At 50 percent off, it's not moving as fast. On Monday I inquired about two unpriced contemporary glass pieces hanging on opposite walls in the escalator bank. "You'd have to find a way to remove them yourself," said an employee. "You'll probably need to rent scaffolding."

I didn't bother to ask the price.

Shopping for great deals Dec. 26? Here are some of the TC's best.

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Department stores Updated: December 24, 2014 - 2:37 PM

If you didn't make it to Saks Off Fifth on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis this week, you still haven't missed 70% off the entire store. The store is expected to close Jan. 20, according to one sales associate on Wednesday. The 70% off the lowest marked price sale

 (shown) began Monday, Dec. 22 and is expected to remain at 70% off until Jan. 4, when it may get bumped up to 80%, she said. Items are selling quickly, but there was still plenty of merchandise on Dec. 24. Saks is considering a new, smaller location in Minneapolis, but has not confirmed anything yet, according to Tiffany Bourre, director of external communications at Hudson Bay Company, which owns Saks. It opened a new outlet in Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan last summer.

Judith McGrann & Friends gift shop (4615 Excelsior Blvd, Mpls., 612-922-2971) discounts her entire store 50% every year on Dec. 26 through the end of the year. Nothing is held back including women's clothing and accessories, jewelry, ceramics, kitchen ware, candles and seasonal items. Discounts do not increase. Unsold items are donated to charity. This is a very popular sale. Get in line before the store opens for the best selection.

Another store that will have diehard fans waiting in line on Friday before the doors open is Room & Board in Edina. Despite the popular outlet store in Golden Valley, R&B's after Christmas sale is extremely well-attended. Save 20 to 50 percent. All floor samples are final sale as in the outlet store, but insiders will be checking the website at midnight on Dec. 25 for additional items released on clearance that may be returned if they don't work. Locals can also save on shipping costs by picking items up at the Golden Valley Distribution Center.

Other sales of note: Nordstrom's Half-Yearly men's sale begins Friday and continues through Dec. 29 at Mall of America. Half-Price Books discounts everything 20% Friday through Dec. 30. An underappreciated bargain shop called Discount 70 (4027 Central Av. NE., Columbia Heights, 763-781-8922) discounts everything in the main store 50%, except sofas and loveseats, through Jan. 3.

Online prices of toys were lower on Black Friday than Super Saturday

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Target Updated: December 23, 2014 - 5:29 PM

The conventional wisdom has been that it’s best to wait until late in the holiday season to get the lowest prices. But that wasn’t the case this year when it came to toys, according to analytics firm 360pi.

That firm has been closely tracking the online price changes on thousands of items throughout this holiday season at major retailers. Its most recent study focuses on a sample of over 270 toys, some of which were expected to be the hot sellers of the season and some of which were picked at random.

It found that that the prices on those toys at Target, Toys R Us, Amazon and Walmart were lower on Black Friday than they were on the so-called "Super Saturday," the last Saturday before Christmas, which was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year. But, the firm added, it wasn’t a huge difference.

"After Super Saturday, with before-Christmas shipping no longer avaialble, we can see retailers returning to their 'regular price,'" 360pi wrote in its report.

Another interesting nugget from the report was that Amazon, Target and Walmart raised prices on those toys on Friday, the day before Super Saturday, and then dropped them on Saturday. That way, one might surmise, the "sales" seemed even bigger on those items.

So when was the best time to buy those toys? Toys R Us, Walmart, and Target had their lowest average online prices at some point after Black Friday during "Cyber Week", the first week of December. 

Interestingly enough, Amazon was the msot consistent with its pricing on toys throughout the period from Black Friday to Super Saturday. It was the traditional retailers who had more erratic pricing changes.

Save $500 to $5,000 on a new car with a $10 tool

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: December 21, 2014 - 10:57 AM

In Sunday's Your Money column I write about the methods I used to help a friend get a good deal on a new Subaru. No I didn't buy him a new car for the holidays, but people supposedly give new cars as Christmas gifts. December ranks as the top month for U.S. car sales, with about 1 in 10 vehicles sold in December, according to Bloomberg.

And those king sized bows? A Los Angeles company called "King Sized Bows" appropriately enough, said that it sells about 2,500 car toppers each year, with buyers split evenly between consumers and dealerships. So far, I haven't been able to find the king sized bows distributor in Minnesota.

Let's say that you are one of the lucky ones purchasing a new car soon. One important negotiating tool if you're buying a new vehicle for yourself or a loved one is to find out if there are secret dealer incentive programs. Sometimes known as dealer "holdback," these programs are in addition to special low financing rates or manufacturer rebates.

These incentives can be significant--starting at $500 and going as high as $5,500. That is why it is often possible to buy a vehicle far under the invoice price, said Robert Ellis of Checkbook.org, a non-profit that includes car buying services. Incentives may increase because a car isn't selling well, dealers are overstocked, or a newer model is coming out soon and the manufacturer wants the old models off the lot.

You can find out which vehicle models currently have dealer incentives at several sources. If you order the Consumer Reports New Car Price Report for $14, it indicates if the model offers dealer incentives, holdbacks or rebates. But if you want to see a list of all vehicles and their holdback amounts, go to CarDeals. For $10 you can get a list that can be printed. The current issue is dated Dec. 19, but the Dec. 9 issue included these secret incentives:

$1,000: BMW 3-series 2015 (excluding 328d)

$2,000 to $2,500: Chevy Cruz 2014, Hyundai Elantra Sport 2014, Mercedes C300 Sport Sedan 2015 4matic, Toyota Prius Liftback 2014 (excludes Prius V, Plug-In and C)

$3,000 to $3,500: Chevy Malibu 2014 or 2015

$4,000 to $5,500: BMW 7-Series 2015 (excludes Alpina), Chrysler 300C 2014 (excludes 300/SRT/300S) and Ford Taurus 2014

This is only a sampling. Many more incentives are listed in the issue. The holdback incentive is not a guarantee that the dealership will pass along the savings to the customer, but it's a powerful tool to take into negotiating.

This is why the buying technique mentioned in the Your Money column is so helpful. Let the dealers bid against each other via email or by phone. The one who can afford to sell you the car for the lowest price will rise to the top.

Not every vehicle will have an added incentive. My friend's Subaru only had low interest financing offer--no holdback, but I was still able to get the vehicle for $250 under invoice.

You may be able to get the holdback incentive programs free from Automotive News or Edmunds, Ellis said, but even paying $10 to potentially save $500 to $5,000 is well worth it.

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