Nordstrom Rack, a pioneer among outlet stores, is receiving a warm welcome from Columbus shoppers.
A recent invitation-only preview and the official opening day both drew hundreds of people to the store at Easton Market.
“We were honored by the response,” said Kate DeToye, Nordstrom spokeswoman.
One shopper who had been at the store on its first day came back this week for a more-leisurely shopping experience.
“I came in with my daughter on opening day, and it was a bit overwhelming,” said Jennifer Grand-Pierre of New Albany. “Their shoes are unreal here. I just got a pair of Vans for my son for $24. I’m excited.”
Nordstrom Rack has been a leader in the off-price segment. “Not only do they get clearance items but they also have access to the same vendors as the department store,” said retail analyst Chris Boring, principal of Boulevard Strategies. “So they carry a lot of top-line designer labels — Calvin Klein, Lucky Brand jeans. It’s almost like going to an outlet store, but instead of one brand there’s a whole variety of brands.”
In addition to Columbus, Nordstrom recently opened Rack stores in Cleveland; Concord, Calif.; Oklahoma City; and Millbury, Mass.
While Nordstrom has been in Columbus since 2001, only two of the off-price Rack stores were in Ohio before the recent Easton opening — one in Cleveland and one in Cincinnati.
Nordstrom Rack carries merchandise from Nordstrom stores and Nordstrom.com, as well as brands specially produced for Nordstrom Rack, with most merchandise selling for 30 to 70 percent off typical department-store prices.
The concept started as a clearance department in Nordstrom’s downtown Seattle store, and in 1973 the company opened its first separate store. There are 132 stores today.
Like most Racks, the new Columbus store has a well-stocked shoe section lining the back of the building, an in-house tailor and staff members equipped with iPads to speed up checkouts.
“I really like the idea you can check out anywhere in the store,” said Cheryl Ankrum of Zanesville, a self-described “loyal customer of Nordstrom,” who has been to Racks in Chicago and New York.
“It’s laid out very nicely. I especially like the wide aisles. It’s nice when there are large crowds. Another thing I like is they can email me when my brand comes in. That will bring me back."
The strong opening week didn’t surprise Boring, who views Nordstrom Rack as part of a trend among retailers to lead customers to their brands by offering separate, lower-priced products with high-price names.
“Nordstrom is considered a best-of-class among department stores that have opened their own off-price outlet stores,” Boring said. “Columbus shoppers are going to love Nordstrom Rack. They are.”
The new Nordstrom Rack is located at Easton Market, near other retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond, DSW, Old Navy and T.J. Maxx.
“That’s going to be a real powerhouse for off-price fashion,” Boring said. “I think it will become a destination, in addition to Easton Town Center.”
Easton Town Center is home to Nordstrom’s only Columbus-area full-line store, which opened in 2001, and the proximity of the off-price Rack to the full-line Nordstrom is no accident, DeToye said.
“We find full-line stores and Racks really complement each other,” she said. “They offer more options for customers. We do have a lot of customers who shop both. It’s a great thing.”
Danielle White of Grove City, for example, “used to shop at Nordstrom a lot, then I had kids, so now not as frequently,” she said. White was in the new Rack with daughters Mackenzie, 3, and Madison, 2, on Wednesday and was enjoying the store. “I’ve been to the one in Chicago,” she said, “ and this one is probably nicer.”
Nordstrom is using the Rack as its “growth vehicle,” Boring said.
“They plan to open 15 Nordstrom Racks a year across the country,” Boring said. “There’s virtually no growth in malls, so full-line stores have few potential locations to go into.”
“We are definitely in expansion mode,” DeToye said.
The Rack’s appeal extends to younger consumers, a segment of the population that department stores have struggled to reach.
“With the often more-pragmatic millennial consumer, the Rack represents a great portal into the brand,” said Marcie Merriman, executive director for Americas Advisory Consumer Products & Retail at Ernst & Young. “Over a third of people in their 20s were raised in (affluent) homes and enjoy the finer things in life. However, they have been programmed to think it is cool to get a deal. With the Rack, they can get both.”
Adding Nordstrom Rack to Easton Market is part of a “transformational” year in the entire Easton area, said Adam Flatto, president of the Georgetown Co., which, along with Steiner & Associates and Limited Brands, is a developer and operator of Easton.
“Nordstrom has been a valued partner at Easton since 2001, and when the opportunity arose to expand this relationship with the addition of a Nordstrom Rack at Easton Market, we felt it made perfect sense,” Flatto said.
“This year has been a transformational one for Easton, with the debut of American Girl and Fenlon Square, the impending unveiling of Costco at Easton Gateway next month and this Nordstrom Rack opening. And there are several other forthcoming announcements that will have our guests looking toward 2014.”