The days of the general store may be gone, but its spirit lives on through retailers like Florida-based Bealls Outlet, which was founded to focus on smaller markets than those typically served by large department stores. Started in 1915 as a five-and-dime in Florida, today the company has more than 460 stores in 17 states, and President Dave Alves says it has its sights set on even bigger and better things. Although Bealls Outlet is undergoing a transformation of sorts, Alves says the chain will remain focused on its core concept of a convenient and welcoming store where everyone can find the styles and brands they want, all at lower prices.
“Our strategy is to become a major suburban store with roots in small markets,” Alves says. “We continually deliver fresh branded fashions, accessories, and home goods making shopping for the family easy, affordable and rewarding.”
For the last five years, Bealls has made some steps toward changing its focus to become a more modern, shopper-friendly experience for customers. Although making such sweeping changes while maintaining the core values that have made it a success has been challenging, Alves says Bealls Outlet has seen a tremendous amount of progress so far, and the company expects more in the years to come.
To understand where Bealls Outlet is going, one has to understand where it has been. Alves says that for a long time, Bealls locations generally were smaller than 20,000 square feet and featured a mix of value-brand apparel, accessories and decorative home goods. Alves says the company’s focus on providing the best possible value to customers meant that many of the frills found in larger-scale stores were set aside.
“We were fairly utilitarian from a in-store environment point of view,” Alves says. Most of the clothing found at Bealls Outlets stores at that time was stocked on long racks that extended all the way down the aisles, and were sorted by commodity and size. This gave the stores something of a “treasure hunt” feel, according to Alves.
Recently, however, the company instituted an effort to change its product mix and in-store atmosphere so that it can appeal to a broader spectrum of customers and expand into new geographic markets. Alves says the company has sought out larger stores to lease with footprints of 20,000 to 25,000 square feet. The company also has broadened its product mix by expanding categories like home, active wear, shoes and beauty products to its apparel offering.
Another significant change to Beall’s Outlet product mix has been a shift toward an increased presence of highly recognizable national brands throughout the store. Alves says the company wants to continue to offer customers a value-based alternative to other chains, but it realized it could make the migration to better brands without changing that focus. The company also is reducing inventory in its stores and scheduling deliveries more regularly to keep the product fresh.
The other side of Bealls’ Outlet transformation is the in-store look and feel of its locations, Alves says. The larger footprints of its recent stores allows Bealls Outlet to open up the aisles more, making the layout of the stores more inviting to customers.
Alves says the company also has cut down the length of aisles, giving Bealls Outlet the opportunity to create more appealing presentations along the aisle to draw in customers. Products have been grouped by size, rather than by type, and branded products have been grouped together to make it easier for shoppers to find what they’re looking for. Alves says it has been possible for Bealls Outlet to make things clearer for its customers without sacrificing the value that the chain is known for.
“What we’re trying to do is to give [the shopper] the benefit of a full-price feel to the store, while still offering her outstanding value ” he says.
By increasing the freshness of its products and opening up the feel of its stores, Bealls Outlet has put itself in a good position to expand, Alves observes. Although the company’s stores are found primarily in Florida, it has more than 250 locations in 16 other states. Bealls Outlet sees plenty of opportunities to infill into those markets and add more density.
Alves says the company is encouraged by recent growth in suburban real estate markets. With the economy still continuing to recover slowly from the recession, Alves says Bealls Outlet offers customers great value and great selection, and it looks forward to the chance to offer those to more people. “We have some exciting expansion plans ahead of us,” Alves says.