A Stylish Mom

Laurie McCartney wanted it all — in just one store. Babystyle was born.

When Laurie McCartney was pregnant with her son Jack, she wanted to simplify the shopping experience. But she couldn't find a store that sold maternity clothes as well as baby clothes and, say, a stroller, she started a chain of her own: Los Angeles-based Babystyle.

“It's a unique concept in terms of its apparel for not only the infant but also for the pre- and post-maternity mom,” says Jeff Green, a retail consultant and president of Jeff Green Partners. “I don't think this has been done before.”

Originally just a Web site, the company soon followed with a catalog. And in three years, MCartney has opened 17 brick-and-mortar stores. The latest is at Simon Properties' Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, N.Y

Babystyle stores carry 500 items, with thousands more on the Web site and in the catalogs. An in-store kiosk lets shoppers order products not stocked in the store, and have them delivered to their homes.

With an average store size of about 2,800 square feet, Babystyle is flexible — it will consider locating in regional malls, lifestyle centers or Main Street environments, depending on customer convenience.

McCartney wouldn't specify expansion plans, but said the East and West Coasts are the chain's first priority. Babystyle also owns two stores in Arizona and two in Texas.

That's somewhat disappointing news for Glimcher Realty Trust, which sees Babystyle as a good tenant fit for its 24 regional shopping centers and 17 community centers in the Midwest, says T.J. Drought, Glimcher senior vice president of leasing. “It's a very unique niche in that particular category.”

Gap Fills A Gap

Forth & Towne appeals to the huge female boomer market.

Gap Inc. seems to come out with a new concept every decade. In the 1990s, it was Old Navy. Now, Gap is going after boomer women ages 35 and up with Forth & Towne.

While Gap will be taking on the likes of Chico's and Talbot's, many experts say this is an underserved market that is only recently getting attention from retailers. Boomer women make up 39 percent of the women's apparel market and are expected to be the largest consumer segment in the U.S. by 2010, writes Jeffrey Klinefelter, a senior research analyst at PiperJaffray.

Gap opened its first Forth & Towne in West Nyack, N.Y., in August; four other stores opened in Chicago. Plans call for five more in 2006 and an additional 20 in 2007.

“These women are a powerful and influential demographic,” says Helen Herrick, director of store design for Foirth & Towne.

The stores place an emphasis on customer service, a top priority for women over 35. Averaging about 8,000 to 10,000 square feet in size, the stores are designed to create a more social atmosphere by placing changing rooms in the center. “We tried to evoke the feeling of a town square that would encourage women not only to try on clothes, but to interact with style consultants, accessorize and spend time in the store,” says Herrick.

Given that Gap's store count is about 3,500, observers don't expect the so-far smallish Forth & Towne chain to have a huge initial impact on the share price. Down the road, however, it could mean more to investors, analysts say. “Gap has a very good track record,” says Geoff Wissman, vice president of consulting group Retail Forward. “Most things they have sunk their teeth into, they have done very well.”

A Mountain Retreat

Caribou is a bullet at No. 2, but climbing.

Starbucks may have covered the U.S. in coffee grounds, but that's not keeping the second-largest specialty coffee chain down. Caribou Coffee plans a $90 million initial public offering to fuel aggressive growth.

Brooklyn Center, Minn.-based Caribou, the majority of which is owned by a Bahrain bank, now has only 340 stores to Starbucks' 1,049. But 13-year-old Caribou plans to open 60 more stores by year's end and another 115 in 2006. “They have a unique coffee presentation,” says Doug Tilson, senior vice president of leasing for Steiner + Associates Inc, whose 1.2-million-square-foot Bayshore Town Square-development in Milwaukee will feature a Caribou. “It's a great alternative.”

To survive in a tough market, Caribou has to differentiate itself, says CEO Michael Coles. Toward that end, Caribou has a unique roasting recipe for each of its blends, rather than one recipe for all coffee. Its décor is distinctive: It's supposed to resemble a mountain lodge. And it stresses customer service with employees encouraged to learn regular patrons' DNA (Drink Normally Asked For).

While Starbucks will remain dominant, there is room for Caribou, says Michael Dee, national director of retail for Grubb & Ellis Co. “I think the whole concept of gourmet coffee has gotten a very strong foothold on the American consumer,” he says. “People have become very price insensitive to that industry and it's seen not as a luxury, but as a necessity.”

Glowing Golf

Putting Edge turns off the lights and turns on the mall.

Whether you think it's a brilliant idea or a tacky gimmick, once you play at the Putting Edge, you won't see miniature golf the same way again. In fact, you won't see anything because the Putting Edge takes miniature golf inside and turns off the lights.

Then it puts you in elaborate sets splashed with fluorescent oranges, greens and yellows. To help you reach par, the club, ball and hole all glow-in-the dark. Too dark to keep score? Don't worry. The scorecard also glows in the dark.

With 24 locations in Canada and the United States, the Putting Edge considers each one of its over 250 holes unique. The course at Fountain Walk in Novi, Mich., includes day-glo pirate treasures and spooky castles. At Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum, Pa., obstacles consist of massive, electric mushrooms and stone idols. No windmills.

At an average size of around 8,000 to 9,000 square feet, it has about 14 locations in the U.S.; five of which are at The Mills Corp. malls. Putting Edge also will open another course later this year at Discover Mills in Lawrenceville, Ga.

The entertainment-based retailer and the mall developer are a perfect fit, says Jerry Vanderburgh, who founded Putting Edge in 1995 and opened the first one in Ontario, Canada. “This (the Putting Edge) could be one way to reacquaint the mall with the customer,” says Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group.

In fact, the Putting Edge plans most of its growth at U.S. at malls.

But is this just another trend? Anyone remember Laser Tag arenas?

For now, though Putting Edge is growing, slowly but steadily. And for the true glow-in-the-dark aficionado, it even offers a Putting Edge Golf Association with an annual championship game.