No longer just a place to stop for a break in the monotony of interstate travel, outlet discount centers are shape shifting into destinations onto themselves.
Witness the downtown Jackson Marriott’s offering of a travel package (Nov.15-16) for two days of the grand opening of the Outlets of Mississippi Nov. 14-17 a few miles away in Pearl. “Join in the enthusiasm of the occasion,” Marriott suggests in promotions for the weekend package.
Such a promotion would have drawn surprise as recently as a few years ago. But the 80-store Outlets of Mississippi complex that opens next week near the interchange of interstates 20 and 55 is not your mother’s outlet center, though she is indeed in the demographic developer Spectrum Capital is targeting with its array of designer and brand name shops.
“Our goal was to create a statewide destination,” said Karen Fluharty, a partner with New Jersey-based Strategy + Style Marketing who has been involved in the Pearl complex since its inception.
At 325,000 square feet, the Outlets of Mississippi is big for a retail outlet center, and will open as the largest of its kind in Mississippi. The complex is fully leased and is expecting an onslaught of shoppers for its grand opening Thursday, Nov. 14, and in the days that follow.
Fluharty said the crowds will be a mix of Mississippians from within a 75-mile radius and interstate travelers whom Spectrum, a developer of such resorts as Turquoise Place in Orange Beach, Ala., expects will stop for more than just a look-see.
“We know how lucrative the visitor market can be,” Fluharty said, noting Spectrum’s experience as both a retail and hospitality developer.
“When you are traveling you feel like you have more time to relax.”
Demographics and shopping patterns and preferences of metro Jackson underwent close examination before the privately held Spectrum and the major retail tenants decided to move forward on the center, according to Fluharty.
Representatives of such brands as Ann Factor Store, Chico’s Outlet, J. Crew Factory, Levi’s, Nike, Saks Off-Fifth, Loft Outlet, Under Armor and White House/Black Market came to Jackson two years ago to survey the metro area’s market potential. “They wanted to understand the geography and understand the market from a competitive standpoint,” Fluharty said.
The developer and retailers saw a need, Fluharty said, to serve a female demographic from ages 25 to 54 that possessed a sense of sophistication and fashion. The “psycho-graphic” they successfully searched for, she added, “was for fashionable women who are seeking brands… but she is also value conscious.”
Not all retailers saw the same potential in metro Jackson, Fluharty said. “There are a couple of brands that shall remain nameless. They looked at the market and for whatever reason decided to pass.”
She stressed that while women are the prime target, men will find plenty to like – and buy – at the center. The male shopper and his spending power, she said, was an essential part of the marketing analysis.
Retail development nationwide has moved away from the mammoth enclosed malls to so-called “life-style centers,” a concept that fits well within the outlet category, Fluharty noted.
“The outlet industry is truly the group that is growing fastest,” she said. “Much of that is driven by the consumers’ desire for brands and savings.”
You’ve got to bring the branded component to the consumer who is brand-centric, Fluharty added. “The outlet category brings then those brands at 25 percent to 65 percent off” compared to prices at the brands’ home stores.
Merchandise is not the irregulars and clearance cast offs that populated outlet centers in their previous incarnation. Today’s brand items displayed at outlet shops are “manufacturer-direct” or have been moved from home stores, she said.
As with all real estate, location is key as well, Fluharty said. “What makes the business model work is that by and large we are not located in a downtown. We have lower real estate costs and because we are not enclosed we have lower operating costs.”
Longtime Jackson commercial real estate broker Scott Overby, principal of the Overby Company, said he thinks Spectrum Capital made a savvy selection with the crossroads site. “It was a smart move,” he said, and noted the developer helped its cause by moving aggressively to secure sales tax refunds from the Mississippi Development Authority.
“I think the shops will do well there,” he said. “There is strong growth in Rankin and Madison counties.”
He said he also thinks the arrival of the quality brand shops reflects a maturing of Jackson’s retail market. “We have enough people. Our disposable income is good. We like to spend money,” added Overby, whose firm is reviving the ailing Metrocenter Mall in southwest Jackson as a prelude to selling it.
The arrival of the Outlets of Mississippi is a natural progression of a retail category that has seized opportunities in larger markets and is now focusing on more medium-size ones such as metro Jackson, he said.
“Size-wise this is a large center,” Overby said, adding he will be interested to see how parking capacity holds up in the early days.
What he especially likes about the development, he said, is that it refrained from duplicating stores already here. “They are not just relocating existing tenants. That is a ‘win.’”
Success for the outlet center could help to prove metro Jackson’s potential “as a fashion forward” market to other retailers, Overby predicted.
“It could be a lot like Nissan when they came. They were successful in what they did and then we had Toyota come in.”
List of stores
American Eagle Outfitters
Ann Taylor Factory Store
Banana Republic Factory Store
Carter’s Babies and Kids
The Children’s Place Outlet
Coach Men’s Factory
Corningware Corelle & More
Crabtree & Evelyn
Direct Tools Factory Outlet
Famous Footwear Outlet
GNC / Value Nutrition
Great American Cookie Co. / Pretzel Maker
Haggar Clothing Co.
J. Crew Factory
Johnston & Murphy
Jones New York
Kay Jewelers Outlet
Lane Bryant Outlet
Levi’s Outlet Store
Nike Factory Store
Nine West Outlet
Perfumes 4 U
Rack Room Shoes
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH
Toys “R” Us
The Uniform Outlet
U-Swirl Frozen Yogurt
White House | Black Market