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Innovation touted at Famous-Barr

Wednesday, October 29, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Managers at Famous-Barr hope their new store in Columbia, along with a small fleet of others like it nationwide, will help usher in a new era in American department stores.

With more aisle space, brighter lighting and a “racetrack aisle,” the design is intended to allow the customer more freedom, a more informal shopping experience and a brighter shopping environment.

The color scheme emphasizes shades of white, light brown and a dull silver metallic plating that make up many of the display racks and shelves. There is also an emphasis on large images and product name displays to direct the consumer to his or her favorite stuff without having to look through the entire store.

The idea for a “racetrack aisle,” which is one aisle that customers can take around the entire perimeter of the store, came from the success that retailers like Target have had with the concept, said Mark Allen, a senior vice president with Famous-Barr who helped design the building,

Another new trend in the store is a completely separate section for teenagers, designed to make them feel separate from the rest of the store. Happy teen models stare from under designer sweatshirts and the music undergoes a noticeable change — from soothing to loud and hip — when customers approach this section from the regular store. Teens wishing to avoid any contact with older, less hip Famous-Barr shoppers can use a wholly separate entrance from the outside.

Allen says this is necessary to compete with many teen retailers, such as American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch, that emphasize a youthful product presentation. Allen says that many teens like to shop with their friends or with their dates and that this design accommodates that better.

Perhaps most bold is the location of many of the new stores. Breaking with almost 30 years of tradition, in which conventional wisdom states department stores do best when attached to malls or large shopping centers, the new stores are designed to stand alone, Allen said. Designers say trends in customer behavior have led to the increased popularity of stand-alone locations in recent years.

“There are so many things that demand the time of shoppers these days,” Allen said. “Most of them like to get into a store, circulate through it and then get out. This way we can let them get back to soccer practice or dance lessons or whatever.”

Ann Stahr, a first-time Famous-Barr customer from Fulton, liked the new concepts.

“This is big time for me,” Stahr said. “I’ve been waiting for a store like this where I can come in, get what I want and get out.”

The concept of stand-alone department stores in many ways is taking us back to the future. When department stores first appeared at the turn of the last century, almost all of them stood alone. Most of them, like Macy’s in New York City, were in central locations in cities, so the population had easy access to them via trolley and subway, and by foot.


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