Hattiesburg — The upscale clothing store Price & Co. has had three homes since opening in 1983. For 10 years it was in Cloverleaf Mall and spent another 10 years in Turtle Creek mall. Now the stylish retailer has taken the bold step of moving to its own building a few miles west on U.S. 98.
“It’s been exciting,” owner Randy Price said of the move he made in February. “It seemed like our store didn’t fit the demographics of mall customers anymore and that of the customers I built my business on.”
He says this goes along with the national trend of shoppers preferring the drive-up-to-the door easy access of strip malls. “We’ve developed what we call a lifestyle shopping center,” he said. “Our customers don’t have a lot of time but appreciate fashion and, more than that, appreciate personal service.”
Price has turned down opportunities to go into strip centers because the locations or mix of businesses didn’t feel right. Rather, he opted to buy a piece of property and build a center where he could control the type of tenants located there. He chose property on the busy U.S. 98 corridor that’s burgeoning west of Hattiesburg. It’s the Lake Forgetful area.
Price & Co. occupies 5,700 square feet of the facility and an Aveda salon has 2,800 square feet. His own spin-off business, Pzazz Shop — a boutique of clothes, jewelry and accessories for the 13-to-30 age group — occupies the space next to Price & Co. A bridal shop will soon occupy the remaining space in the center.
“We’ve already begun to develop 10,000 square feet of additional space,” he said. “Wendy’s has bought a corner lot to build and the new Target and Old Navy stores will be located across the street. We think those businesses fit our customer demographics.”
A regional approach to shopping
Price, 47, says he is not threatened by the close proximity of the big chain stores, but rather sees them as assets that will bring more shoppers to the area. “They’re a different animal,” he said. “We’re taking on a regional approach to shopping. Hattiesburg is centrally located, the traffic flow is good, and we’re right in the middle of all that. It’s a good location.”
The retailer is cautious about the kinds of businesses that will occupy space in his lifestyle center and has turned down two tenants. “We’re all about marketing. We want great neighbors and a great neighborhood,” he said. “Some things just don’t fit.”
As the developer and owner of the space, he’s talking to a children’s shop, jewelry store and lingerie store about locating there. “It will be another three-fourths of a year before that space is open, but all these will be lined up beside the road for drive up parking and shopping,” he said.
It’s been a good move for Price & Co. with business up 30% from the same time last year. He says he was losing business in the mall.
“The lesson to be learned is that customers appreciate newness,” Price said. “You can get into a routine and watch sales figures go down. I recommend doing something new. There’s something about a new building or renovation of an old one that creates interest and brings people in.”
How exactly does this businessman categorize Price & Co?
“It’s larger than the usual specialty shop. We’re different and that uniqueness is what drives our business,” he answered. “It’s pretty much a junior department store. That’s the driving force but there’s more emphasis on customer service. You get no assistance in department stores.”
Price, however, is hesitant to attach an age limit to his store, saying it’s filling a niche and providing name brands.
“Service is the predominant factor,” he added. “We’re changing back to the way it was in the ‘30s and ‘40s. There’s a national trend in that direction.”
Also, he says his type store can be larger and more selection oriented but not as overwhelming as a big department store. “What we’re doing here in the lifestyle center is taking a department store mentality and subdividing each area into a separate shop,” he said. “Instead of being inside a department store, the Aveda Salon is next door and has everything a salon in a department store has.”
Changing times, changing lines
Price & Co. has women’s and men’s clothing and shoes. A few of the well-known brand names include Tommy Bahama, Lacoste, Bentley Arbuckle, Brighton and Cole-Haan. When the store opened in 1983, it was strictly a men’s shop and sold a lot of suits and custom shirts. Those were the days when many men bought a suit every two or thee months instead of every two or three years as they now do.
“We saw the department stores eating away our suit business and added ladies clothing in ‘92 or ‘93 to hedge our bets,” Price said. “We kept expanding and now women’s fashions are 70% of the business.”
The new facility for Price & Co. provides a warm, inviting atmosphere for shoppers with cheerful colors, sofas and flowers. A mirrored ceiling archway down the middle gives a curved look that Price says is the focus feature of the building.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.