In an effort to give online and catalog retailers their own space in brick-and-mortar shopping malls, Epicenter Holdings Inc. is planning to turn vacant anchor stores into collections of boutiques for e-retailers like Petals.com, Epicenter says.
Epicenter, whose top management includes veteran retail industry executives, plans to open its first Epicenter Collection mall store next year in the Polaris Fashion Place mall in Columbus, OH, and eventually open 100 stores in the U.S. and abroad, a spokeswoman says. The Polaris store is expected to have about 180,000 square feet, she says.
Participating retailers will set up boutique selling areas within the Epicenter store, and shoppers will be provided Buypods, Epicenter’s proprietary wireless devices embedded with web browsers, to also shop the same retailers online. The idea is to give shoppers the option to shop online for items not available in the store without having to stand in line at the checkout counter, Epicenter says.
“In a multi-channel world, consumers expect merchants to have retail stores,” said CEO Antony Lee, who prior to Epicenter founded NewRoads Inc., a provider of fulfillment services to direct-to-consumer retailers. “Epicenter provides merchants and brands a way to open successful stores at a fraction of the cost of traditional retail locations.”
Epicenter CIO Ann Gambardella, a former executive of Columbia House and Barnes & Noble, added that Epicenter is also designed to support retailers who may want to showcase some items in a store while providing ordering and home-delivery services through Buypods as well as in-store kiosks.
"The Epicenter business model presents a means for direct marketers and branded manufacturers to establish a bricks-and-mortar retail presence," said Jim Hersh, COO/CFO of Petals Decorative Accents LLC, a retailer of silk flowers and accessories. "We think this strategy is an excellent solution that provides existing and prospective customers an exciting shopping environment and a way of experiencing the actual product before making a purchase."
Epicenter hasn’t disclosed how it will charge retailers for participating in its mall stores, though the spokeswoman says it will charge a start-up fee to integrate retailer’s back-end inventory systems with Epicenter, providing for the ability to monitor and analyze the amount and type of orders placed through Epicenter stores, Buypods and kiosks.