Epicenter Collection Will Finally See Some Action

Epicenter Collection, a concept that offers retail mall space to traditional catalogers, last year experienced a failure to launch. But the project is officially back on after Federated Department Stores signed on to become a partner on April 13, said Tony Lee, CEO of Greenwich, CT-based Epicenter Holdings on April 26 at the Direct Media Client Conference and Co-op on Thursday in White Plains, NY. Real estate developer Gordon Group Holdings and consultancy American Catalog Partnerships also are partners in the venture.

The deal with Federated will allow Epicenter Holdings first dibs to lease properties owned by Federated that became vacant as a result of the 2006 merger of Federated and May Department Stores. Epicenter Holdings signed a lease to fill a former Lord & Taylor location at Christiana Mall in Newark, DE, and is scheduled to open its doors in the first quarter of 2008. Baby and toddler cataloger One Step Ahead and menswear merchant Paul Frederick MenStyle have signed on to be among the location’s first merchants, according to Will Von Klemperer, a partner with Summit, NJ-based American Catalog Partnerships.

Epicenter Collection had initially planned to open a location in 2006 at Polaris Fashion Palace in Columbus, OH. But Epicenter pulled out when it made a “handshake deal” with Federated pre-May merger, a source close to the deal said. Federated spokesman Jim Sluzewski declined to comment.

The venture will combine online, catalog, and retail shopping under one roof. Epicenter will provide the retail infrastructure, lighting, interior walls, HVAC, and assist in hiring staffs, while its tenants will be responsible for fixtures, signage, and furnishings. An on-site management team employed by Epicenter will supervise daily operations.

In addition to traditional point-of-sale stations, Epicenter will also use mobile point-of-sale devices. These devices can be used to scan a customer’s driver’s license for fast address entry, and that data will belong to the individual merchant. Epicenter will also provide hand-held electronic personal shopping devices called Buypods, which allow for one-button product research and purchasing. Consumers can use the Buypod to self-checkout across merchants, or to have an item shipped to their homes.

Lee said the typical cost to open a store within Epicenter Collection will range between $50-$75 a square foot. That equates to 250,000 prospecting books, he said, and is about a third the cost of traditional retail space within a mall. Each location will include a minimum of 50 merchants; Lee predicts that a 2,000 sq. ft.-store within an Epicenter Collection will generate $1.5 million in sales.

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