October 5, 2018

Retail outlier Boscov's opens in Milford

Liese Klein
Liese Klein
Jim Boscov at his new department store in Milford's Post Mall.

The racks are packed with fall clothing, workers are hustling in the aisles and Kool & the Gang is on the sound system urging everyone to "Celebrate good times." Surveying his newest department store, the new Boscov's in the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, CEO Jim Boscov is bursting with optimism as he greets his staff.

"The culture of Boscov's is that we survive, we succeed, because of the people," Boscov said of his employees. "They are happy to help, they're knowledgeable. You go into some stores and you can't find anybody."

More than 300 people have been hired to work at the new Boscov's in Milford, which occupies the former location of J.C. Penney in the middle of the mall. At 180,000 square feet, the new store took over all of the Penney's footprint in addition to building out into the mall for an additional 34,000 square feet, Boscov said. Escalators inside the mall were relocated to accommodate the renovation, he added.

Boscov's opened for its first full day with a preview shopping event on Friday, followed by a grand opening on Saturday featuring a performance by pop singer Debby Boone. Direct mail and extensive social media marketing about the opening has targeted a wide range of New Haven-area households.

Jim Boscov is selling not only his new store but a hands-on approach to retailing that has paid off for the Pennsylvania-based chain in recent years. Boscov's has expanded even as other retailers pare down their brick-and-mortar presence. Milford will the be 47th outpost in the Boscov's chain, with most stores located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Boscov's first Connecticut store opened in Meriden in 2015.

Boscov's carefully researches demographics to pick locations, Jim Boscov said.

"We grow very carefully and very slowly... we grow without taking on additional debt. We're a very healthy company," Boscov said. The chain generated about $1.2 billion in revenue last year, he said.

The decline of legacy retailers like J.C. Penney and Sears has provided opportunities for the smaller chain, Boscov said.

"Nobody's building new malls but they are experiencing the flight of retailers," Boscov said. "We need to find a mall developer who's willing to work with us to expand… it helps them eliminate some of the vacancies. When we come in we generate a lot of traffic. Other people see a busier mall and they want to be there."

Cutting a favorable real estate deal is key to profitability for retailers in a tough climate for brick-and-mortar stores, said Professor Fred McKinney, who holds the Carlton Highsmith Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Quinnipiac University School of Business.

With a good rental arrangement and the right demographic mix, "The store will have a fighting chance to be profitable and sustainable," McKinney said. "The success of the business is really going to be determined on how well they the goods and services match the market, that very specific market."

Key to the retailing strategy at Boscov's is a wide array of products and departments -- everything from eyewear to toys to an old-school candy counter. In mainstays like women's clothing, the aisles are packed with a wide range of apparel across juniors, plus sizes and petites. Almost every rack in the store displayed deep discounts on the list price.

Boscov's low prices are fundamental to the chain's success and have helped drive online business, Jim Boscov said. Things are going so well nationally that the chain plans to announce another new store in the coming weeks. The CEO is confident that his employees will make the sale to skeptical Connecticut consumers.

"The most important thing is all the people you see around," he said. "We've got people who are empowered to help, empowered to solve problems. We're here to help people and make shopping easier."

"I wish them well. I think there's a need for brick-and-mortar retail in communities; it does have social effect of bringing people together," said McKinney of Quinnipiac University. "I do think there's reason to be optimistic."

Contact Liese Klein at lklein@newhavenbiz.com

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