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Liberty Center Dillard's starts small

Posted at 7:39 AM, Oct 01, 2015

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Dillard’s Inc. will put its best foot forward when it opens its newest store at Liberty Center next week.

But that store will have a smaller footprint than previously expected.

Developers have been touting the region’s fifth Dillard’s store – not counting the soon-to-be-closed Tri-County location – as a 200,000-square-foot anchor to the $350 million Liberty Center development. But the store will open at 155,000 square feet, about 20 percent smaller than expected. That’s still big enough to meet the requirements of a 2013 development agreement with Steiner + Associates, Liberty Center’s co-developer.

“That’s not a concern of ours,” said Caroline McKinney, economic development director for Liberty Township.  “We believe the agreements and pledges have been met and we’re excited for the opening.”

Flush with premium brands and an open floor plan that encourages interactions between shoppers and store employees, the Liberty Center Dillard’s will be one of just a handful in the country to feature its latest new-store prototype.

“We’ve found that we’re able to create a better, lasting relationship with our clients,” said Jacquelyn Kise, corporate beauty sales director for Dillard’s. “The customer nowadays wants more of a hands-on approach and she wants an experience. Our goal is to create an experiential and relationship-driven store design (where) the customer feels like she has more involvement.”

On a tour of the store Tuesday, Kise pointed out several merchandising strategies that will make the Liberty Center Dillard's unique in the region:

  • Region's first Tom Ford sunglass display
  • First Cincinnati Dillard’s store to offer Kiehl's cosmetics, also available at Nordstrom in Kenwood and Saks Downtown
  • Only local Dillard's with a Kate Spade display
  • First local Dillard’s to offer MAC Cosmetics counter
  • Hart Schaffner Marx will be featured in region's only "shop concept" for this brand. The men’s apparel brand is available elsewhere n the region, but it will appear as a mini-boutique inside the Liberty Center store.
  • Second Dillard's in the country to deploy a "shop concept" for Polo menswear

Beyond the merchandise, Dillard’s put lots of high-finish touches on its latest upscale-store prototype, including a sumptuous fitting room in lingerie where shoppers can press a call light to have a store associate bring different sizes and styles.

Handbags, sunglasses and cosmetics are arranged in brightly-lit cabinets that allow store associates to mingle with customers – instead of standing behind a counter.

PHOTOS: How the Liberty Center Dillard's differs from other stores

The Liberty Center Dillard’s is one of 10 in the country where these new design elements are incorporated. It’s the third nationwide to be built from the ground up with the entire store featuring the full complement of Dillard’s newest concepts.

“It’s very open, very inviting to the client,” Kise said. “She can see more, feel more.”

Spend more? Kise wouldn’t say whether the new Dillard’s design is driving higher sales, but she said customer satisfaction has improved.

Dillard’s generated $131 in revenue-per-square foot in its 2015 fiscal year, which ended Jan. 31, according to securities filings. That means the store will produce $20.3 million in revenue if it meets the company average. A financial consultant for Butler County and Liberty Township projected $26.1 million in revenue from the store in a report that was commissioned as part of the project’s bond financing. And Liberty Center developer Yaromir Steiner told WCPO in May that Dillard’s could generate about $30 million.

The differing estimates may lie in the fact that the Liberty Center Dillard’s has long been touted as a 200,000-square-foot store but will open with a footprint that’s 45,000 square feet smaller than the figure listed in a Liberty Center press release last week.

“I was always under the impression that it would start off smaller,” said Liberty Township Trustee Christine Matacic. “We were told it will eventually be 200,000 square feet.”

Kise said the store is expandable to 200,000, depending on performance. Township attorney Tom Gabelman confirmed the opening day size complies with Steiner’s master development agreement, which calls for a retail anchor of at least 125,000 square feet.

Dillard’s approach is in line with the rest of Liberty Center, which has announced 92 tenants but will open later this month with fewer than 60 of the restaurants and entertainment attractions that will ultimately set up shop.

“Our industry is typically that we open in phases,” said Liberty Center's Kevin Cedic in a media tour of the project last week. “We’ll have about 65 percent of the retail, restaurant and entertainment spaces open (on Oct. 22) with more following in November, December and going into the springtime.”

The opening hasn’t phased supporters of the project, said Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance.

“The excitement is that you bring together the retail, the restaurants, the hospitality, the office and residential in what’s basically a city format. I think that’s what the excitement is about,” Hinson said. “I think there’s also a recognition that this is not it. I mean, we’re getting started here with phase one. There’s going to be a phase two also.”