Centralia outlet shops thriving

Posted Květen 30th, 2011 by Billabongboardshortscloths

Inside the Coach store, clusters of women and teenage girls hover and jostle as they pore over the selection of high-end purses than run $400 and upward.

Behind the four open registers, lines are at least five-deep, shoppers patiently waiting with a purse or two — or more — in hand.

Salespeople wander and chat, noting that there’s no sale or special event to bring in so many customers. Just a typical day at Coach’s factory outlet mall store in Centralia, where the average shopper might drop a few hundred dollars in one stop — and where, according to the associates, there are usually at least a few dozen customers on a slow day, and 10 times that on weekends and during sales.

The situation is the same at most of the 30-plus stores at the mall, where total revenue rose 20 percent from 2009 to 2010, said marketing and property manager Renata Johnson. There’s a new Christopher & Banks women’s clothing store and a new Toys ‘R’ Us — with a new The Children’s Place scheduled to open in June.

“And we’re about to sign another one,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot in the works. People should be looking for new stores opening here in the next few months.”

The revenue growth and additional stores would appear to be good news for the mall’s owner, Centralia Outlets LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last December.

For Lewis County, the outlet mall has been a solid moneymaker in growth mode during an era when longstanding local businesses have gone belly-up and job cores at the coal mine have shut down and left hundreds hunting for work in other cities.

With the average household making just $42,000 in 2010 — compared to $55,000 in Pierce County and $58,000 in Thurston County, according to the state Office of Financial Management — locals aren’t the ones spending money at the outlet mall.

That would be the tourists, who come from as near as Olympia and as far as Oregon and British Columbia to take advantage of deeply discounted top-label items found nowhere else in the region.

“The outlet mall has been a huge, huge asset to our community,” said Emil Pierson, director of the Chehalis Economic Development Council. “It has a huge impact. It’s our No. 1 retail provider in the city limits. And it’s only getting better.”
Johnson attributes the reason for the mall’s success and continued growth to “location, location, location.”

“Our location is fabulous,” she said, “right on I-5 between Seattle and Portland.”

Because of this, she said other key customer markets include commuting businesspeople, travelers, and sports teams and other groups heading to and from tournaments and other events between Seattle and Oregon.

At Coach, mostly tourists fill the purse store on a Saturday, although an associate noted that, “We’ve been staying steady every day of the week, with all kinds of customers. We haven’t really seen any decline in sales, and we haven’t been selling a lot more of one thing or another. Everything sells pretty steadily.”

There’s an equally fashion-conscious, female-skewed crowd at Ralph Lauren, where general manager Mistee Hurlee said she too has seen steady sales.

Prices have remained steady as well, with no special sales planned.

“People come here because it’s an outlet mall, and they can get quality brands at much lower prices,” she said. “We’re seeing some of the same faces and the same crowds, as usual.”

Mary Hahnenkeratt, manager of Corningware, said the down economy and rising gas prices have helped her business, despite a general merchandise increase of roughly $1 across the board.

“The fact is that everything is becoming more expensive — and the economy has actually helped us because people are eating at home more,” she said.

Still, although she said that more people have been visiting the store, they’re definitely tighter with their money.

“Especially when gas goes up,” Hahnenkeratt said. “Then we have a couple of dead days. People are scared to spend anything. They hold onto their money then because they don’t know how much more prices will rise.”

Aeropostale assistant manager Carry Linwood scans a crowd of teenage shoppers and their families.

She said that clearance items are very popular, but all items are moving well.

“I think things have picked up here because of our prices,” she said. “People aren’t going to the regular malls any more. Or if they are, they’re still buying from here.”

At Famous Footwear, manager Amanda Hummel also said sales have remained brisk, with no noticeable drop during the past year.

“We have noticed that lately we’re seeing more Canadian shoppers, though,” she said. “We always ask customers if they’re a Washington resident because if you’re from Oregon you don’t pay sales task. And a lot of people have been telling us they’ve come down from British Columbia.”

Seth Sharp, assistant manager at Billabong, said his shop has caught the same trend.

“We always see a ton of Canadians,” he said. “(They’re) probably about 12 percent of our customers.”

Sharp said that even during these uncertain economic times, Billabong’s outlet sales have been steady, with no prices increases, yet.

What they sell best just depends on the season.

“But people definitely look here at the outlet store before they go to the mall,” he said.

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