BRADENTON -- Bealls Inc. is getting a positive response from its remodeled outlets -- first tested in Bradenton -- as it expands its new-look Bealls and Burkes Outlets north and west.
Bealls plans to open 11 of its Bealls and Burkes outlets in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina after opening 12 last fall. The new stores are a combination of strategies the 99-year-old department store chain is using to make the layout more pleasing to customers.
"The new decor has been very well received with the new checkouts," Bealls spokesman Bill Webster said. "It's more spacious to shop."
The outlets feature more brand names such as Nautica, Tommy Bahama and Tommy Hilfiger, plus less-crowded racks along with tweaks of the colors and store lighting, Webster said.
Bealls first tested its new design last summer at the Westgate Bealls Outlet, the original Bealls Outlet that once included corporate offices on the second floor and a post office behind the retail space. The retailer remodeled two stores in Florida and one in Arizona in the fall and has plans for more remodels this year.
Consider shopper Tilwana Killings, a fan. The licensed practical nurse was shopping Thursday morning for clothes for an upcoming training conference in Las Vegas and liked what she saw.
"It's great," Killings said. "As soon as you walk in the door, you can spot exactly where you're going and what you need right away."
One of Bealls' latest transformations is in Sarasota, where it closed its 10,000-square-foot Tuttle-Bee Ridge Plaza store and moved last week to the Sarasota Pavilion where they have 25,000 square feet.
"As the leases on small locations come up, we're going to a larger footprint with new merchandise and new décor," Webster said. "We had begun the process before the recession and just continued it."
Bealls' Burkes Outlet has also expanded into Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia where the chain is figuring out its newest challenge: Mother Nature.
"Now that we have so many stores outside of Florida, the ice and snow is going to impact a lot of stores where we never had to think about it," Webster said. "We have approximately half our outlet stores in Florida and half not."
It's not so much that snow and freezing rain deters shoppers as it is the change of seasonal merchandise.
"As all retailers do, we converted to spring merchandise now," Webster said. "When it's 10 below zero, you're not going to run out and buy spring clothes. At least if you're normal, you don't."
While Bealls waits for warmer weather, the chain is also trying to set itself apart in new territories from existing outlets so customers know it's not bargain bin outlet Gabriel Brothers and it's not the more upscale T.J. Maxx either.
"We are more akin to a T.J. Maxx, but T.J. Maxx tends to be more of something you would buy for yourself -- a high-fashion oriented store," Webster said, noting that better customer service also helps Bealls compared with competitors. "Our outlets are more of a family destination."
At least one shopper sees the resemblance. Melissa Kuiper of Grand Rapids, Mich., stopped in the Westgate outlet Thursday to get a bathing suit. It was her first time inside the store. She decided to stop in after seeing her mother-in-law's good finds.
"When I first walked in I thought it was like a T.J. Maxx back home," Kuiper said.
That's not entirely by accident. Bealls completed the in-store redesign work with help from Bealls' Outlet division President Dave Alves, who worked with T.J. Maxx's parent company TJX Cos. Dalton Agency helped tweak the logo and signage.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.