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.

Costco expands its organics selection, temporarily at least

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: February 13, 2014 - 10:03 AM

Shoppers who want organic options haven't always had a lot of options in the Costco produce department--strawberries, blueberries, salad greens, carrots and occasionally butternut squash. Buyers had to look for the word "organic" highlighted in yellow on the price sign to find them in a rush.

But with an organics promotion going on now through March 2, all the signs are easier to find because they've been replaced with an all green sign. It's part of Costco's push to save on organics with a coupon booklet available at the service desk. The coupons are for packaged products such as trail mix, snack chips, juice, cereal, whole grains, hummus, and a spinach-cheese ravioli, not on fresh produce.

The coupons on brands from Cascadian Farm, Seeds of Change, Kashi Stonyfield, and Harry's are for $1.50 to $3 off. Consumers do not need to have the coupon booklet to save. Savings are automatically deducted at the register.

Hundreds of likes and comments at the Moms Across America Facebook page indicate that having more organic choices is a big deal for many families. Still, one person criticized some of the brands that have recently been purchased by corporations, including Kashi (Kellogg's) and Cascadian Farm (General Mills), which have a history of including GMO-ingredients.

The Costco in St. Louis Park has the entire line of packaged organics featured on each cap end in one main aisle. Maybe this will propel Sam's Club to start offering more organics too. So far, the Arkansas-based wholesaler has been slow to add organic items.

Target's Peter Pilotto collection off to a good start

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Target Updated: February 10, 2014 - 10:43 AM

Target's partnership with Peter Pilotto appears to be off to a good start. A number of pieces are sold out online and in stores. Hot sellers included a purple floral print dress, tote bags, towels, sunglasses, cardigans and sneakers. Nearly all of the 36 items chosen by the London-based internet retailer Net-a-Porter are sold out.

In a quick stock check online (which tracks stock store-by-store too), the following items were sold out or hit-and-miss by size: purple floral print dress ($70), green floral print tote bag ($40), green floral swim cover-up ($35), black and white/orange sunglasses ($17), and colorblock cardigan ($35).

It's possible that part of the bricks and mortar success may be because of the line being carried in a smaller number of stores. Beth Perro-Jarvis of Ginger Consulting in Minneapolis wrote in an email, "It's smart they limit the assortment and quantities. Easier to sell out, post a win and not be stuck with an abundance of clearance stock which they famously were with the NM partnership. That tends to create negative buzz."

According to the store stock counts online, Minneapolis downtown and Roseville seem to have the best selection. But showing "out of stock" for certain items at the Edina store or the Lake St. store is misleading because those stores didn't receive any of the collection anyway.

Rare sighting of furniture warehouse sale; This one is by Gabberts.

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: February 7, 2014 - 1:46 PM

Retail is in a state of flux. In case you missed it, it was a lackluster holiday season for bricks and mortar while Amazon captured as much as 25 percent of holiday sales.

Another example of a changing economy? The decline of the warehouse sale. Manhattan Toy In Minneapolis, Illume Candles in Bloomington and Europa Import in Inver Grove Heights have all dropped theirs. When was the last time you saw a furniture warehouse sale? I can't recall the last one I saw from Ethan Allen or Schneiderman's, for example.

The last one at Gabberts was three years ago in Coon Rapids. The Edina furniture retailer is having one today through Sunday only because the company is combining its Gabberts' warehouse with Hom's in Coon Rapids. Hom purchased Gabberts in 2008. "It's never good to have a warehouse sale, " said Eric Knight, warehouse manager at Gabberts."You usually lose money."

The retailer's loss is the consumer's gain. The sale Friday through Sunday (Feb. 7-9) is a good one for low prices and nice selection. There is representation from nearly every department with about $1.4 million in inventory, Knight said. Leather sofas and office desks are in good supply at discounts of 50 to 80 percent (slightly better than at the Odds & Ends Room in the Galleria store).

The biggest discounts are on holiday items such as wreaths ($8, regularly an eye-popping $120) and slim Christmas trees 5-9' tall for under $30, but most of the items in the rooms in the entry way have excellent discounts, including art, mirrors, holiday trim, and rug pads, most marked down more than 70 percent.

I didn't see any Hom furniture in the mix, although Knight said there are a handful (fewer than five pieces) included. There are more than a dozen Stickley pieces (casegoods and upholstery), all well-marked down. A 46-inch round quarter sawn oak pedestal dining table with 2 leaves by Stickley was marked down to $1,998,regularly more than $3,500.

A high-end lighted bookcase by Drexel that was $2,047 in the Odds & End Room just last week was marked down further to $1,598 at the warehouse sale.

During the moving sale, all clearance and merchandise in the Odds & Ends Room gets an additional 20 percent discount. Clearance rugs get an additional 25 percent off. Sale hours are noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. The sale is located at 10759 Hampshire Ave. S., Bloomington off Old Shakopee Rd.

For a 30 second panaroma of the moving sale selection, go to http://www.startribune.com/video/244329661.html.

Residential snow plow service on demand. No contracts.

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: January 31, 2014 - 2:24 PM

Minnesotans who purchased a snow removal contract got their money's worth this year, but the more frugal types hate the idea of paying for something that could be a waste of money if it doesn't snow. Take the winter of 2011-2012, for example.

Try the free Plowz app for Apple or Android instead. Plowz introduced service in the Minneapolis St. Paul metro area at the end of December. They plow your driveway with no seasonal contract. To get your driveway plowed, just tap the "schedule a plow" button, choosing the day and morning or afternoon timeframe. The company saves your personal info (including a credit card) so you aren't starting from scratch each time. After it's done, the company emails a photo of the freshly plowed driveway.

What's great about scheduling a day or so out is that it allows the customer to cancel it if a kindly neighbor blows out part of your driveway and sidewalk. You may also want to wait until after the city plows have cleared the street or alley. Those chunks defy most snow blowers and flimsy, plastic shovels, but not a snowplow.

A smartphone is not required. if a person wants to call to schedule a plow with a credit card over the phone, call 1-800-489-8128 extension 2.

Pricing is based on driveway length and width. One to two car lengths to the street is $25 and nine to 10 car lengths is $45. The price may fluctuate during high demand, according to the website.

The site also recommends that a customer stake the driveway so the plow operator doesn't damage the grass, but it is not required.

Plowz is a national company servicing more than a dozen cities. Its drivers are independent contractors.

Plowz is not the only company in the Twin Cities to offer on demand snow plowing. Others do as well, including KG Landscape (612-669-9607) and Plow Pic and Pay in the White Bear Lake area (651-248-4034). They shovel walks too, usually for $55 to $75, all inclusive. Know of others? Add your comment.

Note: none of these companies were vetted by us. Ask for references if you want proof of quality of work.

Len Druskin will rebrand, close 4 stores and open 4 new ones

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: January 28, 2014 - 1:29 PM

Len Druskin, the upscale retail store with multiple concepts, is simplifying its brand. According to a long letter posted by Michael Druskin, the son of founder Len Druskin, the retailer will move "toward one brand, one identity, and one vision--the new premium 'Len.' "

Two of the three stores in Gaviidae closed earlier this month and the Len Druskin Man store will close in February. One of two stores in City Center closed late last year. President Michael Druskin wrote in his letter that the restructuring means the company will be "more consistent... and less confusing."

Amen. The retailer had at least five separate concept stores, maybe more-- LD Len Druskin for women's professional and dress apparel, LD Blues, the the women's upscale casual store (both in Gaviidae and now closed), LD Men (closing in Feb. in Gaviidae), LEN fast fashion lower-priced stores in Southdale, City Center, Rosedale, Ridgedale and MOA), the higher-end flagship in the Galleria and the outlet store in a few doors down from the LEN store in City Center (now closed). And that's not counting the Illinois store that opened late 2013.

Retail analyst Mary Van Note of Ginger in Minneapolis said the number of types of stores was confusing. "They got overextended and the naming strategy didn't make it clear where to go for what," she said.

I had trouble figuring out how the now closed outlet store was different from the other City Center store and the Dale stores, but store reps tell me that the closed outlet was higher-end merchandise from the Galleria. Apparently, the Dale stores and remaining City Center stores are selling lower-priced fast fashion at 50 percent off every day. But it's not an outlet.

Although closing four stores may look like an abandonment of downtown Minneapolis, Druskin's letter indicates that it will bring the higher-end premium brand back downtown in 2015. I am unclear if that means opening a new store and keeping the City Center Len store. (Michael Druskin is out of town and did not respond to an email.)

An employee at the City Center Len location said that it will continue to stock fast fashion at a lower price but will introduce the higher-end stuff too. I'm guessing the existing store will get a makeover too. It's difficult to sell non-discounted, high-end designers under lights so harsh they could induce criminal confessions.

Van Note sees the higher-end trend as a good one for LD.  "Value and super premium concepts both do well and the middle is losing out," she said.

Meanwhile, store reps are saying that the new name will be LEN for all stores, including the Galleria. By the end of February a new store at MOA will replace the temporary location by Macys 3rd floor. Two additional stores will be completed by fall of this year and two more in 2015, wrote Druskin on the store site.

All stores are currently in 50 percent off mode. Not everything is half off in the Galleria or the LD men stores. Selected items are not discounted at all, but the majority of the store is half off for men's and women's stuff.

Best of luck in the transition, Len Druskin.

Eagan outlet mall names 7 more tenants; it's now 90% leased

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Malls Updated: January 23, 2014 - 3:49 PM

With the addition of newly-announced tenants Reebok, Old Navy, True Religion, Lucy, Talbots, Gymboree and Movado, the Eagan outlet mall is now 90 percent leased. Owner Paragon Outlet Partners announced the additions Thursday.

Lucy and True Religion fill a couple of holes in the retail assortment, including an upscale fitness wear store (Lucy) and luxury brands (True Religion), according to retail brand experts Mary Van Note and Beth Perro-Jarvis of Ginger in Minneapolis.

Stores for men, especially an electronics store such as Bose, are still underrepresented in the mix, although Reebok and Old Navy will draw some.

When it opens in August, the center will include about 100 shops. Other retailers previously announced include American Eagle, Asics, Calphalon, Cole Haan, Crabtree & Evelyn, Helzberg Diamonds Outlet, Watch Station, Janie & Jack and Crazy 8 (owned by Gymboree), J. Crew, Johnston & Murphy and White House/Black Market. All are exclusive to Minnesota.

Other stores include Adidas, Chico’s Outlet, Children’s Place, Converse, Destination Maternity, Famous Footwear, Fossil, Jockey, Samsonite, Skechers and PacSun.Saks Off Fifth, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Swarovski, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen and Wilson’s Leather.

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