Neiman Marcus opens outlet at Arundel Mills

High-end retail chain previews clearance center

$972 Prada handbags go for a mere $495

March 03, 2006|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Neiman Marcus cleaned out its closet and shoppers at Arundel Mills will get a chance to rummage through the "hand-me-downs."

The high-end retailer today officially opens its Last Call Clearance Center at the major outlet mall in Hanover, one of 16 Last Call centers around the country and the first in Maryland.

But these aren't your older sister's leftovers. The folks at Neiman Marcus prefer to call their overstock goods "treasures."

The Dallas retailer takes all the designer handbags, couture suits, Manolo Blahnik sandals and high-end jeans that don't sell in its regular stores and sells them at their Last Call stores at a steep discount.

The deals are significant, with prices slashed 40 percent to 75 percent. But the retailer maintains its high-end reputation, with prices that are still expensive, by the average shopper's standards, even after the markdowns.

Some of Neiman's most loyal customers were invited yesterday to preview the 25,000-square-foot Arundel Mills outlet - and get first shopping dibs.

At noon, employees raised the gates at the store and applauded as about two dozen shoppers filed in.

Some rushed immediately to the left to handbags. A giraffe print Prada bag was marked down to $495 from $972. A red leather Gucci bag with gold ring detailing and gold chain across the front was on sale for $311, down from $890.

Five minutes after the opening, a sales associate carried seven designer bags to the register for a customer.

The shoe department had enough Manolo Blahnik and Prada pumps to feed Carrie Bradshaw's shoe fetish for months.

The front of the store, with its young contemporary fashions, was more for the Paris Hilton trendsetters of the world. Pairs of Seven For All Mankind jeans were slashed nearly 50 percent to $100. There were Juicy Couture sweat suits in bright pink and sexy halter tops by Laundry by Shelli Segal.

Caroline Becker, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, nabbed a pair of the $100 Seven jeans. She'd been looking for weeks for a pair at discount and finally found them at Neiman Marcus yesterday.

"I love them because they fit so well," she said. "You have to have patience and try a lot of them on until you get the right fit. But once you find them you become addicted."

Neiman Marcus opened its first outlet store eight years ago in Austin, Texas. Like other companies with outlets, Neiman Marcus saw it as a way to get rid of excess inventory without selling it to third parties who then sell it again at a profit.

"It's a good way to move merchandise and keep the brand in front of people," said Mark Millman of Millman Search Group, an executive search firm and retail consultancy in Owings Mills.

Neiman found this Arundel Mills location attractive because of its relationship with the Mills Corp., the Arlington, Va., real estate investment trust that owns the mall and nearly 60 other shopping centers.

The retailer also figured there was a strong customer base because of the success of its nearby full-line stores at Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia and the Mazza Gallerie in Washington.

The Last Call is located besides Off 5th Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, another popular upscale clothing store at the five-year-old outlet mall.

Neiman maintains the same standards at its clearance stores as it does at its full-service stores. Sales associates give customers one-on-one attention. They will hold merchandise behind a service counter near the fitting room, so that people aren't weighed down with clothes while shopping.

The merchandise at Last Call is usually about a year old. For instance, spring fashions on sale at Arundel Mills yesterday hadn't sold at other stores last year.

"This merchandise has been with us a long time, but it's all fabulous," said Gayle Tremblay, vice president of Neiman's clearance division.

The store gets two shipments of merchandise a week, and the selection of clothes can change rapidly.

"It's still an outlet," said Xitlalt Herrera, a media manager for the company. "You have to keep coming back to find what you want."

When Elise and Aaron Hansen heard about the Arundel Mills opening, the couple from Texas decided to take a four-day vacation to the Baltimore-Washington area to check out the store.

The Hansens like off-the-wall fashions and say Neiman Marcus is one of the few places they can find them. Their favorite designer is Roberto Cavalli.

"They carry more styles and assortments. We're not traditional dressers," said Elise Hanson, who was dressed in paisley print jeans and a green and black plaid jacket made of lamb and rabbit fur.

Selma Fritz of Baltimore said she first shopped at a Neiman Marcus while on vacation in Florida and has been a fan ever since.

She, too, says the clothes are more stylish. Yesterday, the retired legal secretary wore olive green leather pants with boots in the same color.

"I have a reputation to maintain," she said of her fashion sense.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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