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‘Lifestyle stores’ popularity on the rise in retailing

JACKSON — When you look through the windows of The South, open for eight months in Pear Orchard Village, you see bedding, beaded lamps, leather and upholstered chairs and original art displayed throughout. Further into the store, shoppers find china and flatware patterns, tabletop accents and even a selection of high-end menswear — all under one roof.

But The South isn’t a department store — it’s the leading edge in Mississippi of a new kind of shopping destination, called a “lifestyle store.”

The term “lifestyle store” is applied to all kinds of retailers, as an Internet search proves — Aveda, Williams-Sonoma and Restoration Hardware were lifestyle stores before the term became popular, with Aveda incorporating the term into their corporate title. Lifestyle retailers range from Royers Round Top Cafe in Houston, Texas, housing a restaurant, furniture, arts, women’s clothing, handmade jewelry and fresh flowers, to Bleu Comme Bleu in Paris, France, which offers women’s clothing, a hair salon and home accents all in one shop.

“It’s kind of hard pinpointing a lifestyle store,” managing partner Stan LeFlore confessed. And although design partner Nicky Lee defined their product line as “everything you need for the gracious Southern lifestyle,” her selection criteria for the home’s expanding line of decorative accents, linens and furniture is the soul of simplicity: “I just buy whatever looks good to me.”

Stan LeFlore’s first meaningful contact with a lifestyle retailer came on a market trip to Lexington, N.C., on a trip to The Bob Timberlake Gallery — a combination art studio, furniture, menswear and outdoor accessory store, with all merchandise offered under the rubric of “Bob Timberlake’s lifestyle.”

Timberlake, a highly successful North Carolina artist, also collects outdoor gear such as decoys, canoes and 18th century American antiques. Thirteen years ago, Lexington Furniture Company approached Timberlake and asked if he would lend his name and design expertise to a new home furnishings line, called “At Home with Bob Timberlake,” according to Frank Stoner, president of Bob Timberlake Inc.

After placing the furniture with other retailers throughout the nation, Timberlake decided to expand his art gallery in Lexington to house the various furnishings bearing his name. “So we built a 26,000-square-foot facility,” said Stoner — and The Bob Timberlake Gallery was born. “What we have here showcases the Timberlake lifestyle. The gallery is a reflection of what Bob Timberlake likes,” Stoner said.

So who shops at a lifestyle store and why? LeFlore said, “People are attracted to the idea of a lifestyle store because you have so much to offer. Ask: what do you do when you’re off? Where do you spend your time? If they’re old enough to be in the job market and have anything going on socially, they’re our customer.”

The store began with the menswear collection, the home furnishings and the artwork, said LeFlore, with interior design services becoming available in March and a bridal registry opening in May. The design end of the business has taken off, with design jobs lined up in Bridgewater and Lake Caroline in Madison County, one site in Natchez, a whole-house project in Bolton, and other jobs performed in Brandon, said LeFlore.

Lee, who does the design work for The South’s customers, described her style as eclectic: “We want a look where it seems you could have traveled all over the world to select these pieces, rather than like you just went to a showroom and bought a set of furniture.”

LeFlore summed up what The South has to offer: “His clothes, her china, their home.”

“I buy what I like” takes on new meaning when used by merchandisers at lifestyle stores. “What you’re really buying into is their vision and interpretation,” said LeFlore.

So what do you get when you have a whole collection of lifestyle stores, adding restaurants, convenient parking and landscaped sidewalks? A “lifestyle center” such as Dogwood Festival Market, which celebrated its grand opening in Flowood in April.

“Lifestyle center” was coined by Poag & McEwen Company in Memphis in 1996 to describe The Shops of Saddle Creek and registered as a service mark in 1997, according to research by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The target markets are affluent areas that can support a mix of national, regional and selected local retailers as well as upscale dining opportunities.

National retailers such as Borders Books and Music, Old Navy, Linens and Things, Gap/Gap Kids and Ann Taylor Loft are commonly found in lifestyle centers, while Dogwood Festival pulled in stores such as McRae’s, Olde Tyme Commissary and Indianola Pecan House to preserve the local flavor that saves a lifestyle center from being just another mall.

In recent years, lifestyle centers have become increasingly popular with today’s shoppers who are time starved and destination driven, according to Robin Raiford, marketing director for Aronov Realty, Dogwood Festival’s developer. “Lifestyle centers such as Dogwood Festival Market are designed with shopper convenience in mind,” said Raiford.

As with lifestyle stores, the lifestyle center’s appeal lies in the ambiance — with sidewalk access, floral accents and a specially commissioned set of bronze sculptures, Dogwood Festival is unique in Mississippi, according to Jake Aronov, founder of Aronov Realty.

In the end, it’s the ability to offer something different that appeals to customers, mused LeFlore. “What appears to be happening out there in the market is that people what something fresh,” LeFlore said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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