A $9-million expansion leaves no doubt about where Charlotte-based Belk thinks Flowood’s retail market is headed.
In fact, the need to simply keep up with current market demand led Belk to enlarge its store at Dogwood Festival by 40,000 square feet, company executives say.
The new expansion to 210,000 square feet is the second in seven years for the former home of McRae’s department store.
This latest bulk-up is expected to help Belk be a big player in a market that “is just exploding,” said Belk executive Jan Clevenger just ahead of last Wednesday’s grand “reopening” of the company’s expanded store at Dogwood Festival.
The store never actually closed as it underwent the $9 million in interior improvement and the addition of 20,000 square feet to each of the store’s two levels. As store manager, Tim O’Dougherty had the job of keeping things running smoothly as, in his words, workers brought “a lot of newness” to the store’s interior and added the new space.
The interior improvements include design and lighting upgrades as well as new display bays and fixtures.
The additional square footage lets Belk offer the additional designer brands and other merchandise for which customers have been asking, O’Dougherty said.
Already ranked in the top 10 in volume among the privately owned retail chain’s 304 stores in 16 states, the Dogwood Festival store’s expansion was an obvious choice, executives said.
“The growth was already there,” O’Dougherty said. “The expansion happened because of our sales growth.
“Support has been phenomenal through the years,” added O’Dougherty, who is in his third year as store manager and will be hiring 47 new workers for the expanded store.
Clevenger, executive vice president and chair of the company’s Western Division, which includes Mississippi, said Belk occupies a higher-end retail category in which it has little competition in metro Jackson other than the Dillard’s store at Northpark Mall in Ridgeland. That store, Clevenger said, must complete with the newness of both the Flowood Belk store and the one at Northpark, which underwent a $2 million refurbishment last year.
Some added competition is expected with next month’s opening of the Outlets of Mississippi retail plaza in Pearl, which will include a Saks’ Off-Firth Avenue store. “We have a lot of similar things,” Clevenger said.
She said she doubts that without some quality restaurants on the premises or nearby, the Outlets of Mississippi should not pose too big a threat to the Flowood retail market. “I expect it to hit this store a tiny bit,” she conceded.
Clevenger, who manages 100 stores in her region, said Macys is the primary competitor to Belk. On the cyber side, Belk is ranked among the tops nationally in Internet retail sales. “We’re seeing double digit growth there,” she said.
But shopping online can’t replace the fun experience of shopping a brick & mortar store — a theory supported by in-store sales growth in recent years, Clevenger noted.
“Brick & mortar has a lot of opportunity as long as we keep reinventing ourselves.”
While other retailers rode out on the recession of the last decade by holding their cash close and even closing in some markets, Belk invested in making its stores bigger and better.
“We changed the direction. We took the money we would have spent opening new stores updating and enlarging our stores. That’s what we executed in Northpark and Flowood.”
Meanwhile, expectations for the future in Flowood couldn’t be higher, according to Clevenger.
“Flowood has always seen growth, even in the recession,” she said. “This store has the newest of every concept we have. It looks like our flagship store in Charlotte.”