Few individual retail stores have had the ups and downs of the Bed Bath & Beyond store on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. And with its grand reopening in July as the flagship for the rapidly changing home furnishings retailer, the store has taken on yet another persona, as the future of the Big Box chain. And in this renovation process, a case can be made that it may be the most dramatic transformation of an existing physical store in recent retail history…perhaps all of retail history. That’s how transformed the store is.
Bed Bath & Before
It opened in the early 1990s in the historic Siegel-Cooper department store building, in an area once known as the Ladies Mile for all its grand retail. It marked a major milestone for BBB. It was its single largest store, its first in Manhattan and a proud showpiece for a company about to go public.
In BBB’s renovation process, a case can be made that it may be the most dramatic transformation of an existing physical store in recent retail history…perhaps all of retail history.
It also resurrected a neighborhood that had fallen into retail irrelevancy, relegated to warehouses, back office uses and general disrepair. Before too long Sixth Avenue from 14th Street all the way up to 23rd Street was once again teeming with retail –and street — life with the BBB store as the anchor for this urban strip mall.
From its original one-story base, the BBB store expanded until it had two floors encompassing more than 110,000 square-feet, three times the size of the typical Bed Bath store and perhaps the largest non-department or mass merchant location in Manhattan. It was as much store as gathering spot, a place every bit as important in the social scene of the city as Starbucks, MoMA or Bloomingdale’s.
And then, like the rest of the BBB operation, the store began to deteriorate. The layout became more haphazard, the rack’em/stack’em style of merchandising — once a cherished hallmark of the chain — became ever more overwhelming and convoluted and the store overall was increasingly inhospitable for customers and employees alike.
By the time new management — brought in as part of a shareholder revolt that forced out just about everybody running the place — made the decision to close the store last December, it signified everything that was wrong with the troubled retailer.
Bed Bath & Right Now
Then on the morning of July 22 all that changed. That’s when with a grand ribbon cutting led by CEO Mark Tritton, company and store employees and a minor industry celebrity or two, the Chelsea store was reborn. Or maybe reincarnated might be a better word because in a way the store has been returned to its rightful role as the retail anchor, not just of the neighborhood but really of the entire company. It took more than six months to reimagine the store, and BBB adhered to several tactics that are the backbone of its new strategy to turn around the company.
Less is More
The reopened store measures out at 92,000 square-feet, still the largest in the chain, but down 14 percent from its former 110,000+ square-feet footprint. More importantly, skus on the selling floor are down 44 percent and inventory for the store has been reduced 40 percent. These are monumental resets and while it remains to be seen how this will impact productivity when it comes to sales-per-square-foot there’s no denying it is a totally different shopping experience.
Open Floor Plan
Tritton said the store has more of a “residential” feel, and ironically, the new store has an open floor plan style that today’s homeowners seem to prefer. Fixtures are low and widely spaced out throughout the store and the towering walls and confining “bays” that defined the old store (and every BBB store for 50 years) are pretty much gone. The store is every bit as airy with clear sightlines as the old store was not. The contrast is jarring, almost as if you can’t believe it’s the same space.
Signs of the Times
Old BBB stores were never bastions of merchandising style, but this new store has large, prominent and consistently (all in that signature company blue) designed signage along with super photography that store officials made a point to say were “Instagram worthy” and bright lighting to make everything pop. There may have been good lighting in the old store, but you couldn’t always see it with all the clutter.
True, the old store had a snack bar/coffee stand but it’s much more modern, situated in the middle of the store this time for mid-shop breaks. There are also several other high-profile stopovers include a SodaStream Bubble Bar (if you have to ask, you’re probably still getting your seltzer delivered), a Casper bedding shop and a vacuum test area complete with all kinds of prerequisite New York City dirt and schmutz.
Shoppers can still find Calphalon frying pans and Dyson vacs, but the store features the full range of the retailer’s ever-growing assortment of “owned” private label goods, six right now and counting. They are shown in pods and mixed into classification areas. Private brands will account for as much as a third of the retailer’s revenue by 2024 if all goes according to plan.
More is More
Not everything is about subtraction at the new store. It has a vastly expanded home décor department, a category severely underrepresented in the old mix and one that HomeGoods has been particularly successful at exploiting. The Casper shop puts Bed Bath more squarely into the mattress business, another category it had not been a serious player in previously.
Final Grade: B++
The new store gets a B++ (kind of fitting, don’t you think?), just missing getting the top grade for some very minor points. The bedding area could have featured a few more display vignettes with beds as they are powerful visuals. Also, even though the move to private label is a smart one there are still opportunities for more in-store national brand shop-in-shops similar to what they did with Casper. A few more of these focal points could have pumped up the selling floor even more.
But these are quibbles when you consider how far, how fast and how fabulous Bed Bath & Beyond’s Chelsea store has come. Is it the best retail redo ever? Show me another one better.