The Finer Things

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The 2009 holiday shopping season may be stronger than most people expect. A year ago, the downturn in the global economy put the brakes on consumer confidence, not to mention the sale of large-ticket items like cars and trucks.

Those factors affected metro Detroit’s economy more so than other region’s, but there were winners out there — and there are more winners to come. Perhaps surprisingly, luxury malls have held up fairly well during the economic downturn, both here and across the country.

One reason is that luxury malls put the spotlight on department stores and retailers as opposed to converting concourses and atriums into street-style bazaars. “Our strategy is to make our retailers shine,” says Nate Forbes, managing partner of Southfield-based Forbes Co., which owns and manages the Somerset Collection in Troy. “We follow four principles with all of our malls — the first is department-store exclusivity, meaning bringing in names that are unique to the marketplace.

“Second, we look for more than 40 percent exclusivity with our inline stores. The third thing is great dining options, from fine restaurants to a food court, so you cover all price points and tastes. And fourth is architectural design.”

The latter principle speaks to a sense of place. Luxury malls emphasize interior design that is both classic and contemporary. That means warm finishes, glass walls or skylights, water features, and commissioned art like sculptures or murals. “We create a little bit of an oasis where there are many points of interest,” Forbes says. “It breaks up the monotony of walking through the mall, and people can see all the stores without having to walk around carts or kiosks.”

Luxury malls, much like downtown districts, restaurants, and shopping centers, have also tapped more social-marketing programs and promotions to entice shoppers. That means cooking classes, celebrity appearances, home shows, and loyalty programs.

Greater emphasis on retail shopping as an investment is paramount, as well. Gone are trendy gifts that don’t hold much value. Today, more people are interested in gifts that can be passed from generation to generation, such as fine jewelry, crystal stemware, and fine art.

Retailers that can offer value in a warm, inviting atmosphere are sure to be winners this holiday season, and beyond. So, too, are merchants who use the economic downturn to improve their interior spaces. A recession, after all, drives down the costs of trades while opening up construction schedules.

Even a simple makeover can do wonders.

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